Throughout the day, violent clashes have been reported along the Israel-Gaza border as more than 50,000 Palestinians gathered at 13 different points along the border fence. The protests, which are the culmination of a six-week ‘March of Return’ campaign, have been coordinated by the Hamas terror organisation, which is proscribed in the UK.
According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, more than 58 people have been killed and 1,300 injured in the clashes. Six of those killed by gunshots in the clashes were minors, the Ministry said.
Many of the protestors have participated in riots with widespread use of stone throwing and firebombs being hurled towards the border fence and Israel’s security forces. Additionally, thousands of tires were burned along the Gaza-side of the border in an apparent attempt to produce a smokescreen for the violent protesters. A number of flaming kites have also been used in an attempt to ignite fires in Israeli territory.
In recent weeks, the Israel Defense Forces have repeatedly claimed that they were concerned about the prospect of Hamas encouraging Gazans to try breach the border fence en-masse, and throughout the day they have documented various attempts to do so. In one incident, three Palestinians were killed as they tried to plant explosives at the border fence in the Rafah area, where especially violent riots have taken place. The IDF have released footage of one such apparent attempt to infiltrate the border fence – click here to watch.
IDF troops have stated they are responding with riot dispersal means and live-fire to prevent a breach of the border. IAF aircraft targeted Hamas military posts near the Jabalia area after IDF forces were fired upon from the northern Gaza Strip.
Minister for the Middle East, Rt. Hon. Alistair Burt MP, expressed concern at “peaceful protests being exploited by extremist elements”, and called for “restraint” from Israel in its use of live-fire. He tweeted: “Extremely saddened by loss of life in Gaza today. Concerned peaceful protests are being exploited by extremist elements. Urge restraint in use of live fire. Violence is destructive to peace efforts. UK remains committed to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital”.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the IDF’s response to the Hamas-led protests. He stated: “Every country has the right to protect its borders. The Hamas terrorist organisation declares its intentions to destroy Israel and sends thousands to break through the border fence for that purpose…We will continue to act with determination to defend our sovereignty and our citizens”.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called Israeli “massacres against our people”, and declared three days of mourning for “the martyrs”.
Both Hamas and Fatah have been urging Palestinians to turn out en masse to protest the Embassy move and take part in Tuesday’s 70th anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” as Palestinians term Israel’s creation. Weekly gatherings and violent demonstrations have been occurring on the Gaza side of the Israel-Gaza border, under the banner of ‘March of Return’ since 30th March.
The IDF dropped leaflets over the Gaza Strip early Monday morning warning Palestinians not to approach the border fence. The Arabic-language leaflets told residents that Hamas was endangering their lives. The leaflets said: “Do not approach the security fence nor participate in the Hamas display that is putting you at risk”.
According to Israeli security reports – based upon interviews with Palestinians that had been captured after recent border breaches – Hamas has warned its own members to stay away from the security fence during Gaza’s mass protests, while actively encouraging Palestinian civilians (particularly children and teens) to approach the border. If the border fence is breached, however, armed Hamas gunmen are reportedly poised to enter Israel to carry out attacks.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem US President Trump addressed the opening ceremony via video link, with Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner along with US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, leading the 250-strong American delegation in attendance at the opening ceremony. The move of the Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem follows President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.
Addressing the attendees from Washington, President Trump said: “Israel is a sovereign nation, with the right like any other sovereign nation, to designate its capital”.
Jared Kushner said: “While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American embassy once they were in office, this President delivered. Because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the day as “a great day for Israel, a great day for America, but also a great day for peace”. He said: “President Trump, by recognising history, you have made history”.
Envoys from 32 countries attended the ceremony, including Austria, Peru, Serbia and the Czech Republic.
In a statement this morning, No 10 said the UK’s position has not changed, and that it currently has no plans to move its Embassy from Tel Aviv.
The move has sparked fury in the Muslim world, with the Arab League branding it “illegal” and announcing a meeting on the decision on Wednesday.
Since President Trump’s decision, leaders of a number of other countries have announced plans or expressed interest in relocating their embassies to Jerusalem, including Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, the Czech Republic, and Romania.
Jerusalem has been the de facto capital of Israel since it was founded in 1948 and holds a unique status for the nation, as the religious, national and cultural centre of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. The status of Jerusalem is the single most contentious point in any peace negotiations, due to its importance to both Palestinians and Israelis.