Israeli troops have opened fire on Palestinians who have gathered near a Gaza fence for the climax of a six-week demonstration coinciding with the inauguration of US embassy in Jerusalem al-Quds.
Clashes erupted along the fence Monday between Palestinians and Israeli forces as protesters converged on the site for a “day of rage”.
According to Gaza health officials, at least 41 Palestinians have been shot dead and hundreds have been wounded by Israeli snipers who are positioned along the fence, facing the protesters.
The Israeli army is expecting about 100,000 demonstrators to gather at main locations, coinciding with a gala in the afternoon to officially relocate US embassy to Jerusalem al-Quds.
Israeli troops have killed 45 Palestinians since the demonstrations began on March 30, according to Palestinian health officials, while no Israeli casualties have been reported.
The death toll has drawn international criticism, but the United States which has angered Muslims with its embassy move, has supported Israel.
On Sunday, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets over the Gaza Strip warning Palestinians not to approach the fence and threatening to target Hamas facilities in the besieged territory if protesters breach the barrier.
Palestinian witnesses said Israeli aircraft also dropped flammable material on Monday to burn tires that protesters had stacked to set on fire. The Israelis also fired tear gas at people inside the tented encampments that have sprung up along the fence.
Hardline education minister Naftali Bennett told Israel Radio that the regime would treat the Gaza fence as an “Iron Wall” and anyone who approached it as a “terrorist”.
The rallies known as the “Great March of Return” are due to climax on Tuesday, the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe) when Israel was created.
Every year on May 15, Palestinians all over the world hold demonstrations to commemorate the day, which marks the anniversary of the forcible Israeli eviction of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948.
The daily Haaretz quoted a senior Israeli officer in the Southern Command as predicting that Monday’s protests would be much more violent than those of the previous seven weeks as it coincides with the US embassy relocation.
Israel has doubled the number of forces around the Gaza Strip and in occupied West Bank territories ahead of the controversial embassy opening. On Sunday, the regime deployed 11 battalions along the Gaza fence, including special forces, intelligence units and snipers.
Additional combat battalions and intelligence units are to be deployed to the West Bank, the Israeli daily reported.
More than 1,000 Israeli settlers stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of East Jerusalem al-Quds on Sunday, in a provocative act ahead of the US embassy opening.
The occupied territories have witnessed new tensions ever since President Donald Trump announced on December 6 US recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s so-called capital.
The dramatic decision triggered demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories as well as Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco and other Muslim countries.
Kremlin: US embassy opening adds fuel to Mideast tensions
The Kremlin said on Monday it feared the opening of a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem would increase tensions in the Middle East, Reuters reported.
“Yes, we have such fears,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call, when asked if the Kremlin was concerned the move could increase tensions in the wider region.
UN experts slam Israel’s ‘disproportionate use of force’
In a relevant development on Monday, UN rights experts urged Israel to halt excessive use of force against peaceful Palestinian protesters, calling for an “impartial, independent investigation” into Israeli troops’ violence in occupied territories.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was “alarmed by the disproportionate use of force displayed by the Israeli security forces against Palestinian demonstrators.”
The 18-member UN committee said it was “gravely concerned that many of the persons who died or were injured were reportedly posing no imminent threat at the time they were shot,” voicing alarm at “many reports according to which Israeli authorities have denied and continue to deny access to urgent medical treatment to injured Palestinians.”
The UN rights experts further stated that the deaths and injuries in occupied territories occurred “in a context marked by the 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territory” as well as a more than decade-long crippling blockade imposed on Gaza.
Palestinian govt.: Israel committing ‘terrible massacre’ in Gaza
Also on Monday, the Palestinian government accused Israel of committing a “terrible massacre” of Palestinians in protests in Gaza Strip.
Palestinian government spokesman, Yusuf al-Mahmoud, demanded in a statement “an immediate international intervention to stop the terrible massacre in Gaza committed by the forces of the Israeli occupation against our heroic people.”
Turkey: US embassy move encouraged massacre of Palestinians
Turkey on Monday said the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem al-Quds has encouraged Israeli forces to massacre Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Issuing a statement, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry added that the embassy move disregarded the rights of Palestinians, saying, “We curse the massacre carried out by Israeli security forces, encouraged by this step, on the Palestinians participating in peaceful demonstrations.”
Egypt condemns Israel for ‘targeting of Palestinian civilians’
Egypt has also strongly condemned Israel’s targeting of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, where peaceful demonstrators protesting US embassy move were welcomed on Monday by Israeli forces’ live rounds and tear gas canisters.
“Egypt rejects the use of force against peaceful marches demanding legitimate and just rights, and warns of the negative consequences of this dangerous escalation in the occupied Palestinian territories,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Amnesty: Gaza bloodshed ‘abhorrent violation’
Amnesty International said in a tweet on Monday that the bloodshed along Gaza’s border fence with Israel was an “abhorrent violation” of human rights.
“We are witnessing an abhorrent violation of international law and human rights in Gaza…. This must end immediately,” the London-based human rights group said on Twitter.
We are witnessing an abhorrent violation of international law & human rights in #Gaza. 38 confirmed dead, including 6 children, with close to 2000 people injured. Many are reporting injuries to the head and chest. Over 500 injured with live ammunition. This must end immediately.
— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty)
Arab League plans extraordinary meeting
The Arab League is preparing for an extraordinary session on Wednesday to discuss Washington’s “illegal” move of relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds.
Egypt’s state news agency MENA also quoted an Arab diplomat as saying that permanent representatives to the Arab League will be participating in the event.
The meeting is convened with an aim “to counter the illegal decision taken by the United States of America to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem,” it added.