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Palestine: Israeli Troops Kill Dozens of Palestinian Protesters as U.S. Embassy Opens in Jerusalem

Monday 14 May 2018, by siawi3


Israeli Troops Kill Dozens of Palestinian Protesters as U.S. Embassy Opens in Jerusalem

May 14, 2018

Right Now Palestinian officials say at least 41 people have been killed in the latest round of protests.

• At least 1,700 Palestinian demonstrators were also wounded along the border fence with Gaza, the Health Ministry reported, as the mass protests that began on March 30 and that had already left dozens dead erupted again.

• The relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv took place on Monday, the 70th anniversary of the formation of Israel, amid formality and celebration that created an almost surreal contrast to the violence raging barely 40 miles away.

Photo: Protesters along Israel’s border with Gaza, left. Also on Monday, President Trump’s daughter Ivanka, pictured with the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, attended the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem. Credit Mahmud Hams, Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Protests on Gaza border turn bloody.

A mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from Gaza quickly turned violent, as Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire. Monday quickly became the bloodiest single day since the campaign of demonstrations began seven weeks ago, to protest Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza.

Photo: Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in the Gaza protests, which spread on Monday to the West Bank, where the focus was on opposition to the embassy move.
Associated Press

By 4:30 p.m., 41 Palestinians, including several teenagers, were dead and at least 1,700 were injured in Gaza, the Health Ministry said. Israeli soldiers and snipers used barrages of tear gas as well as live gunfire to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory.

The Israeli military said that some in the crowds were planting or hurling explosives, and that many were flying flaming kites into Israel; at least one kite outside the Nahal Oz kibbutz, near Gaza City, ignited a wildfire.

By midafternoon, the protest nearest to Gaza City had turned into a pitched battle — a chaotic panorama of smoke, sirens and tear gas that stretched along the fence. Emergency workers with stretchers carried off a stream of injured protesters, many with leg wounds but some having been shot in the abdomen. A number were teenagers.

Demonstrations coincide with U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem.

Photo: Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, spoke during the ceremony to open the embassy. Credit Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Even as Palestinians’ anger erupted, American and Israeli officials celebrated President Trump’s move of the embassy to Jerusalem. Previous administrations in Washington, like the governments of most American allies, had been unwilling to make the move, insisting that the status of Jerusalem needed to be resolved in a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

In a recorded video message played to some 800 people gathered at the new embassy, Mr. Trump said the United States “remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement.â€

Speaking at the ceremony, Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, also spoke of a resolution to generations of conflict. “When there is peace in this region, we will look back upon this day and will remember that the journey to peace started with a strong America recognizing the truth,†he said.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel sounded more triumphant and defiant than conciliatory.

“What a glorious day,†Mr. Netanyahu exulted. “Remember this moment! This is history! President Trump, by recognizing history, you have made history.â€

“We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay,†he said. “We are here in Jerusalem protected by the great soldiers of the army of Israel and our brave soldiers are protecting the border of Israel as we speak today.â€

Behind the embassy shift, a close alliance between 2 leaders.

Photo: David M. Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the embassy opening on Monday. Credit Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The shift to Jerusalem reflects the close alliance that has developed between Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu, which Palestinian leaders say has worsened prospects for peace.

Many Israelis see the relocation of the embassy as simply acknowledging that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. But Palestinians, who hope to see the eastern part of Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state, see the move as an abdication of any vestige of American impartiality in determining the region’s future.

[Understanding the issue: Here are nine things to know about Jerusalem and the controversy over the American Embassy.]

“Today is a day of sadness,†said Sabri Saidam, the Palestinian minister of education. “It’s a manifestation of the power of America and President Trump in upsetting the Palestinian people and the people who have been awaiting the independence of Palestine for 70 years.â€

The embassy opening began at 4 p.m., with the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Mr. Kushner, whom the president has tapped as his chief Middle East peace negotiator. They were joined by a small contingent of Republican lawmakers.
Urging demonstrators forward, despite the risks.

Photo: A wounded Palestinian man during protests near Gaza’s border with Israel. Credit Khalil Hamra/Associated Press

Near Gaza City, a voice on a loudspeaker urged the crowd forward: “Get closer! Get closer!â€

The charge was often led by women dressed in black, waving Palestinian flags and urging others to follow.

“We don’t want just one or two people to get closer,†said an elderly woman clutching a shoulder bag and a flag. “We want a big group.â€

The atmosphere grew more charged after midday prayers, when more than 1,000 men gathered under a large blue awning. Officials from Hamas and other militant factions addressed the worshipers, urging them into the fray and claiming — falsely, to all appearances — that the fence had been breached and that Palestinians were flooding into Israel.

Several speakers reserved their harshest words for the United States and its decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. “America is the greatest Satan,†said a cleric, holding his index finger in the air as hundreds of people did the same. “Now we are heading to Jerusalem with millions of martyrs. We may die but Palestine will live.†The crowd repeated the chant.

As the cleric spoke, more smoke rose in the sky behind him, and worshipers peeled away and began to walk toward the fence.

Protests spread to the West Bank.

Photo: In the West Bank, protesters moved toward the Qalandiya checkpoint into Jerusalem, a longstanding hot spot for clashes with Israeli security forces. Credit Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

While Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, has led the protests in the territory — and managed to revive international interest in the Palestinian cause in the process — the rival Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, made a more subdued show of support.

Palestinians marched at midday in West Bank cities from Hebron to Nablus. In Ramallah, a small crowd gathered before noon and marched south toward the Qalandiya checkpoint into Jerusalem, a longstanding hot spot for clashes with Israeli security forces.

At the front of the march were leaders of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah movement, including Jibril Rajoub, general secretary of Fatah, and Mr. Saidam, the education minister.

“Palestine is on the map,†Mr. Rajoub said. “This is a right. This is a must. The emergence of the Palestinian independent state with Jerusalem as its capital is the only way to achieve security, regional stability and contribute to global peace.â€

Outside the Qalandiya refugee camp north of Jerusalem, youths released bunches of black balloons that carried aloft black Palestinian flags, showing their disdain for the American move. Even before marchers arrived there from Ramallah, clashes pitted demonstrators throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails against Israeli security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Clashes were also reported in Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron and Nablus. But one usual site of conflicts was relatively quiet: the checkpoint near Beit El. A possible reason: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, returned on Monday from a trip overseas, and security officials ensured that his path home to Ramallah was clear.

Israeli rights activists object to deadly response.

Photo: A protester scuffled with the Israeli police outside the new United States Embassy in Jerusalem. Credit Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The fast-climbing body count drew condemnation from a variety of corners, including within Israel. B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organization, assailed the military’s use of lethal force, saying the demonstrations were no surprise and Israel had “plenty of time to come up with alternate approaches.â€

“The fact that live gunfire is once again the sole measure that the Israeli military is using in the field evinces appalling indifference towards human life on the part of senior Israeli government and military officials,†the group said.

But the leader of the center-left opposition in the Israeli Parliament faulted Hamas for what he called its self-destructive actions, not only in loss of life but also in the destruction of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, where protesters set fire to much of the infrastructure. The crossing is a portal for goods entering and leaving Gaza.

“Events in Gaza are very serious, painful and difficult but I must say one thing, in all fairness,†said the leader, Isaac Herzog said in a radio interview. “To whoever is sending them to these protests — violence and force will not help you. Look at 70 years of history: You have not achieved anything from violence. To the contrary. You should return to negotiations, not burn the pipes that supply you water and electricity and fuel.â€

A bigger clash is planned for Tuesday.

Photo: Tear gas at demonstrations near the border between Gaza and Israel on Monday. Credit Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The mass protests in Gaza, promoted by Hamas, were expected to peak on Tuesday with an effort by thousands of people to cross the fence, despite warnings from Israel, possibly setting the stage for more bloodshed.

The demonstrations were originally meant to protest the economic blockade by Israel of Gaza, the impoverished region governed by Hamas. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, have joined in the economic squeeze that has left Gazans increasingly desperate.

The timing is no accident — May 15 is observed by Palestinians as the anniversary of what they call the nakba, or catastrophe. It marks the expulsion or flight from the newly formed Jewish state of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in 1948, who have been unable to return or reclaim property they left behind.

Some of the demonstrators have thrown gasoline bombs or rolled burning tires toward Israeli soldiers, and Israeli security forces have said that some of the Palestinians who were killed were armed with semiautomatic rifles.

The demonstrations at the Gaza fence have taken place primarily on Fridays since March 30, and have already left dozens of people dead and thousands injured.

On the border, violence foretold

Video here

What Life Is Like on Gaza’s Side of the Fence

Palestinians in Gaza are taking part in mass protests, demanding an end to the 11-year blockade of the territory and a return to lands in what is now Israel. The Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief reports from the region. By NEIL COLLIER, YOUSUR AL-HLOU and DAVID M. HALBFINGER on Publish Date May 14, 2018. Photo by Yousur Al-Hlou/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

Declan Walsh, the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times, got a taste of what was to come on Sunday when he went to the site of the protests in Gaza for what he originally thought would be an uneventful evening.

On the Gaza side of the fence, local residents milled about. On the other side, Israeli snipers watched.

Two bullets suddenly slammed into the ground in front of the Palestinians, who moved back but then regrouped and approached the fence. Another shot rang out, this time hitting a woman, who had to be rushed to the hospital.

His report is here.

David M. Halbfinger reported from Jerusalem; Isabel Kershner from Kfar Aza, Israel; and Declan Walsh from Gaza City. Reporting was contributed by Iyad Abuheweila, Neil Collier, Yousur Al-Hlou and Ibrahim El-Mughrabi from Gaza City, and Rami Nazzal from Ramallah, West Bank