JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli fire killed at least 52 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border on Monday, in a violent burst of bloodshed that cast a cloud over Israel’s festive inauguration of the new U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem.
It was the deadliest single day of protests since the Palestinians began staging weekly border demonstrations on March 30 in an attempt to break an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Protesters set tires on fire, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air, while the Israeli military accused protesters of trying to break through the border fence and plant a bomb, and said troops had come under fire.
By mid-afternoon, the death toll included a 14-year-old boy, while over 500 were wounded by Israeli fire, Palestinian health officials said.
In the West Bank, several thousand people gathered in the center of Ramallah, while hundreds marched to the Qalandiya crossing on the outskirts of Jerusalem, where protesters threw stones at Israeli troops.
The protest in Gaza was to be the biggest yet in a weekslong campaign against a decade-old blockade of the territory. The march was also directed at the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem later Monday. The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv, a key campaign promise of President Donald Trump, has infuriated the Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as a future capital.
“A great day for Israel!” Trump tweeted early Monday.
Monday marked the biggest showdown in recent weeks between Israel’s military and Gaza’s Hamas rulers along the volatile border.
It is the culmination of a campaign, led by the Islamic militant Hamas and fueled by despair among Gaza’s 2 million people, to break the decade-old border blockade of the territory imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. Since weekly border marches began in late March, 60 Palestinian protesters have been killed and more than 2,300 wounded by Israeli army fire.
Hamas leaders have suggested a border breach is possible Monday, while Israel has warned it would prevent protesters from breaking through the barrier at any cost.