JERUSALEM - Israel has celebrated the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, as the Israeli army has shot dead at least fifty-eight unarmed protesters on the Gaza border.
Gazan health officials reported another 2,771 people have been wounded, pushing the hospitals in the Strip to breaking point.
According to the Israeli army, 35,000 Palestinians gathered at the border fence on Monday to protest the embassy opening. Some of them threw rocks while others sent burning kites over the fence in an attempt to set fire to crops.
"People have come out of the rubble to say we will not forget our rights," Yousef Abu Saleh, 25, told The Washington Post. "The American administration is adopting the Israeli story and stealing our right of return."
The Israeli army used live ammunition and rubber bullets to quell the huge crowd lined up along the border. They also launched drones to disperse tear gas.
The UN Secretary-General has issued a sharp rebuke over the events taking place along the border.
"The Secretary-General is profoundly alarmed by the sharp escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territory and the high number of Palestinians killed and injured in the Gaza protests," Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said Monday. "Israel security forces must exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire. Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations have a responsibility to prevent all violent actions and provocations. With tensions high and more demonstrations expected in the coming days, it is imperative that everyone show the utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life, including ensuring that all civilians and particularly children are not put in harm’s way."
"Hospitals report that essential medical supplies, drugs and equipment have already been exhausted. Humanitarian funding and improved access is urgently needed to meet these and other existing or emerging needs," the UN secretary-general's statement said. "The ongoing violence underscores the urgent need for a political solution. The Secretary-General reiterates that there is no viable alternative to the two-state solution, with Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace, each with its capital in Jerusalem.”
Scores of Palestinians have died while protesting the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, since President Donald Trump announced the controversial move in December.
Mr Netanyahu has defended the Israeli army, saying the deaths and injuries have been justified. “Every country has the duty to defend its borders," he tweeted.
"We will continue to act with determination to protect our sovereignty and our citizens,” he said.
South Africa has recalled its ambassador to Israel following Monday's events.
"Given the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack, the government has taken the decision to recall Ambassador Sisa Ngombane with immediate effect until further notice," a South African government statement said.
Turkey has recalled its ambassadors both to Tel Aviv and Washington for consultations, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said Monday.
Turkey has also called an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to be held on Friday. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a major rally will be held in Istanbul on Friday in solidarity with the Palestinians. "Israel is wreaking state terror. Israel is a terror state," Erdogan told Turkish students on a visit to London. "What Israel has done is a genocide. I condemn this humanitarian drama, the genocide, from whichever side it comes, Israel or America," he said.
The European Union fell short of condemning Israel, preferring to call on both sides to exercise restraint.
“Dozens of Palestinians, including children, have been killed and hundreds injured from Israeli fire today, during ongoing mass protests near the Gaza fence. We expect all to act with utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement Monday. “Israel must respect the right to peaceful protest and the principle of proportionality in the use of force. Hamas and those leading the demonstrations in Gaza must ensure that they remain strictly non-violent and must not exploit them for other means,” he added.
France was also critical, inferring Israel was using 'disproportionate force.'
"France calls on all actors to show responsibility to prevent a new escalation," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement. "France again calls on the Israeli authorities to exercise discernment and restraint in the use of force that must be strictly proportionate."
France opposed the U.S decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, with the foreign minister saying the move "violated international law and in particular, UN Security Council resolutions."
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was cautious. He said he was "extremely saddened by the loss of life" in Gaza. "We understand that there are some people provoking that violence. But on the other hand there has got to be a restraint in the use of live fire," he said.
Egypt, one of two Arab nations which have diplomatic ties with Israel condemned the violence. "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 Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Kuwait has requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, according to the country's mission to the world body. "We condemn what has happened," Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi told journalists.
An official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saudi Arabia stressed the kingdom’s strong condemnation of the targeting of unarmed Palestinian civilians by Israeli occupation forces, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries. The source stressed the need for the international community to shoulder its responsibilities to stop the violence and protect the Palestinian people, reiterating the kingdom’s steadfastness toward the Palestinian cause and restoring their legitimate rights in accordance with the resolutions of international laws and the Arab peace initiative.
The United Arab Emirates government on Monday donated $5 million to the Red Crescent for the victims in Gaza while it condemned the "excessive use of force" by the Israeli army against the unarmed Palestinian people.
"The UAE absolutely rejects the use of force to confront peaceful demonstrators who demand their just rights,'' the UAE statement said.
Qatar described Israel as a 'killing machine,' and called on the international community to intervene. "Qatar calls on all international and regional powers that have a voice in Israel to act immediately to stop the brutal killing machine, and calls upon the Security Council and international community to shoulder their responsibilities," spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lolwah al-Khater, said Monday.
Australia seemed to blame Hamas for Monday's casualties. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Hamas' conduct was confrontational and seeking to provoke Israeli defence forces. "Any loss of life is tragic in these circumstances," he said in an interview on Melbourne's Radio 3AW on Tuesday.
"We recognise that Israel has legitimate security concerns and needs to protect its population, and we call on Israel to be proportionate in its response and refrain from excessive use of force," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement published on Tuesday. "Australia urges Palestinian protesters to refrain from violence and attempting to enter into Israeli territory during the March of Return," she said.
Germany too took aim at Hamas, indicating it should surrender control to the Palestinian Authority. It did however request that Israel exercise proportionality. “Israel has the right to defend itself and to secure the fence against violent incursion. However, the principle of proportionality applies. That includes only using live ammunition when other, less forceful methods of deterrence do not work and in cases of concrete threats,” the German Foreign Office said Monday.
“The right to peaceful protest must also apply in Gaza. At the same time, we have always made clear that this right must not be abused, taken as a pretext or exploited in order to escalate the situation, deploy violence or incite others to do so,” the German foreign office said. “Those who wield power in the Gaza Strip must renounce violence and the Palestinian Authority must once again be in control in Gaza."
Iran's foreign minister unsurprisingly was quick to criticise its long-time enemy. "Israeli regime massacres countless Palestinians in cold blood as they protest in the world's largest open air prison. Meanwhile, Trump celebrates move of U.S. illegal embassy and his Arab collaborators move to divert attention," Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet on Monday.
Seven of those wounded on Monday were journalists. Al-Ittihad Press correspondent Mohammad Al Dweik was among them, as was Reuters journalist Ahmad Zaqout, photojournalist Omar Hamdan, journalist Farhan Abu Hadayed, Al-Aqsa cameraman Ashraf Shamiyeh, Al Esteklal correspondent Abedallah Al Shourbajy, and Al Jazeera correspondent Hoda Abdel-Hamid.
Many young men and boys are among the injured, mostly hit by live bullets, according to British-Palestinian doctor Ghassan Abu Sitteh, who spoke to CNN from a hospital run by a British charity in Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza. "Each of these young men will need five or seven surgeries for their injuries and I would say 60% of them will be left with some permanent disability," he said.
Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accused the Israeli army of delibrately targeting the knees of Palestinians youths with the intention of maiming them.
White House spokesman Raj Shah laid the blame for Monday's casualties on Hamas. "The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas," he said. "Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response."
On Monday night the United Nations Security Council tabled a draft resolution condemning Monday's violence and calling for an independent investigation. The United States however used its veto to block the resolution from passing.
The draft resolution was as follows:
“The Security Council expresses its outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest. The Security Council calls for an independent and transparent investigation into these actions to ensure accountability."
At a reception on Sunday to welcome the U.S. delegation ahead of the embassy opening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged other countries to follow the U.S. lead and move their embassies to Jerusalem.
"Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it's the right thing to do," he said. "Move your embassies to Jerusalem because it advances peace, and that's because you can't base peace on a foundation of lies."
Most ambassadors and consulate officers who had been invited however failed to attend the reception.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, a strong advocate of the embassy move, were there to represent the president.
"Tragically, the U.S. administration has chosen to side with Israel's exclusivist claims over a city that has for centuries been sacred to all faiths," the general delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to the United States said Sunday.
"As the Israelis and Americans exchange greetings and words of support, Palestinians see no coincidence in the choice of days for this event: the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Israeli State, Nakba Day, the start of Ramadan; the opening of an embassy the Palestinians are vehemently opposed to," Philip Williams, the chief foreign correspondence of Australia's ABC wrote on Monday. "It may seem like a perfect opportunity for two countries to confirm a friendly embrace. But for others, it looks like a perfect storm of deliberate insult designed to divide."