JERUSALEM: At least 52 Palestinians were martyred and 2400 other were wounded after violent clashes erupted along the Gaza Strip’s border hours ahead of the controversial opening of US embassy.
The United States officially opened its deeply controversial Jerusalem embassy on Monday in a ceremony that included a video address by President Donald Trump as deadly clashes broke out.
Trump told the ceremony that the United States remained committed to reaching a lasting Middle East peace, though the move of its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has provoked outrage.
A plaque and seal were unveiled at the ceremony, officially opening the embassy. It was the deadliest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since a 2014 war between the Jewish state and Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
Thousands had gathered near the border in protest while smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians were approaching the fence and trying to break through, with Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.
Crowds had built throughout the day in the Palestinian enclave less than 100 kilometres away from Jerusalem and sealed off from Israel by a blockade.
The inauguration, which follows Trump’s deeply controversial December 6 recognition of the disputed city as Israel’s capital, also came at a time of heightened regional tensions.
It follows Trump’s announcement last week that the United States is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and Israeli strikes two days later on dozens of Iranian targets in Syria.
Those strikes came after rocket fire toward Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights that Israel blamed on Iran. The Trump administration has vowed to restart the moribund Middle East peace process but the embassy move has inflamed tensions.
On Sunday, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a message saying America’s decision was evidence that “appeasement” has failed Palestinians and urged Muslims to carry out jihad against the US, according to a transcript provided by the SITE monitoring agency.
Around 1,000 police officers were being positioned around the embassy for the inauguration. Israel’s army said it was almost doubling the number of troops surrounding Gaza and in the occupied West Bank.
It also dropped leaflets warning Gazans to stay away from the fence, including one with a photo of the Champs-Elysees boulevard in Paris and the caption: “Gaza 2025? The choice is in your hands.”
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a message to Gazans “we will protect our civilians with all our means and not enable the fence to be crossed”.