Protests on Gaza border turn bloody.
A mass attempt by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating Israel from Gaza quickly turned violent, as Israeli soldiers responded with rifle fire. Monday quickly became the bloodiest single day since a campaign of demonstrations began seven weeks ago, to protest Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in the Gaza protests, which spread on Monday to the West Bank, in opposition to the embassy move.
By 4:30 p.m., 41 Palestinians, including several teenagers, were dead and at least 1,700 were injured in Gaza, the Health Ministry said, making Monday the bloodiest single day since a campaign of demonstrations along the border fence began seven weeks ago. Israeli soldiers and snipers were using barrages of tear gas as well as live gunfire to keep protesters from entering Israeli territory.
The Israeli military said that some in the crowds were planting or hurling explosives, and that many were flying flaming kites into Israel. Outside the Nahal Oz kibbutz, just across from protests east of Gaza City, emergency workers raced to try to extinguish a rapidly spreading wildfire caused by one incendiary kite, as four others could be seen sailing overhead.
By midafternoon, the protest nearest to Gaza City had turned into a pitched battle — a chaotic panorama of smoke, sirens and tear gas that stretched along the fence.
Thousands of protesters massed close to the barrier, often obscured by billowing clouds of black smoke. Israeli soldiers responded with barrages of tear gas and some gunfire.
Kites sailed toward the fence, some fashioned from Palestinian flags, others with flaming tails and carrying crude explosives.
Emergency workers with stretchers carried off a stream of injured protesters, many with leg wounds but some having been shot in the abdomen. A number were teenagers.
A voice on a loudspeaker urged the crowd forward: “Get closer! Get closer!”.
The action began midmorning, as crowds spread out across several hundred feet. The charge was often led by women dressed in black, waving Palestinian flags, who urged others to follow.
“We don’t want just one or two people to get closer,” said an elderly woman clutching a shoulder bag and a flag. “We want a big group.”
The atmosphere grew more charged after midday prayers, when more than 1,000 men gathered under a large blue awning. Officials from Hamas and other militant factions addressed the worshipers, urging them into the fray and claiming — falsely, to all appearances — that the fence had already been breached and that Palestinians were flooding into Israel.
Several speakers reserved their harshest words for the United States and its decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem. “America is the greatest Satan,” said a cleric, holding his index finger in the air as hundreds of people did the same. “Now we are heading to Jerusalem with millions of martyrs. We may die but Palestine will live.” The crowd repeated the chant.
As the cleric spoke, more smoke rose in the sky behind him, and worshipers peeled away and began to walk toward the fence.
Palestinians’ anger erupted as American and Israeli officials prepared to celebrate President Trump’s move of the embassy to Jerusalem, which previous American administrations have been unwilling to do.
Many Israelis see the relocation of the embassy as simply acknowledging that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. But Palestinians, who hope to see the eastern part of Jerusalem become the capital of a Palestinian state, see the move as an abdication of any vestige of American impartiality in determining the region’s future.
“Today is a day of sadness,” said Sabri Saidam, the Palestinian minister of education. “It’s a manifestation of the power of America and President Trump in upsetting the Palestinian people and the people who have been awaiting the independence of Palestine for 70 years.”
The embassy opening began at 4 p.m., with the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, among the dignitaries attending, as well as a small contingent of Republican lawmakers.
Mr. Kushner, whom Mr. Trump has tapped to negotiate Middle East peace, will say that an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is still feasible, and that both sides have much to gain, according to advance remarks obtained by Reuters.
“We believe, it is possible for both sides to gain more than they give — so that all people can live in peace,” the remarks said.
The shift to Jerusalem reflects the close alliance that has developed between Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
In the West Bank, protesters moved toward the Qalandiya checkpoint into Jerusalem, a longstanding hot spot for clashes with Israeli security forces. Credit Mohamad Torokman/Reuters
While Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza, has led the protests there — and managed to revive international interest in the Palestinian cause in the process — the rival Palestinian Authority, which rules on the West Bank, made a more subdued show of support.
In Ramallah, a small crowd gathered before noon and marched south toward the Qalandiya checkpoint into Jerusalem, a longstanding hot spot for clashes with Israeli security forces.
At the front of the march were leaders of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah movement, including Jibril Rajoub, general secretary of Fatah, and Mr. Saidam, the education minister.
“Palestine is on the map,” Mr. Rajoub said. “This is a right. This is a must. The emergence of the Palestinian independent state with Jerusalem as its capital is the only way to achieve security, regional stability and contribute to global peace.”
Palestinians marched at midday in West Bank cities from Hebron to Nablus.
Outside the Qalandiya refugee camp north of Jerusalem, youths released bunches of black balloons that carried aloft black Palestinian flags, showing their disdain for the American move. Even before marchers arrived there from Ramallah, clashes pitted demonstrators throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails against Israeli security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Clashes were also reported in Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron and Nablus. But one usual hot spot was relatively quiet: the checkpoint near Beit El. A possible reason: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s president, returned on Monday from a trip overseas, and security officials were ensuring that his path home to Ramallah would be clear.
The mass protests in Gaza, promoted by Hamas, were expected to peak on Tuesday with an effort by thousands of people to cross the fence, despite warnings from Israel, possibly setting the stage for more bloodshed.
The demonstrations were originally meant to protest the economic blockade by Israel of Gaza, the impoverished region governed by Hamas. Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, have joined in the economic squeeze that has left Gazans increasingly desperate.
The timing is no accident — May 15 is observed by Palestinians as the anniversary of what they call the nakba, or catastrophe. It marks the expulsion or flight from the newly formed Jewish state of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in 1948, who have been unable to return or reclaim property they left behind.
Some of the demonstrators have thrown gasoline bombs or rolled burning tires toward Israeli soldiers, and Israeli security forces have said that some of the Palestinians who were killed were armed with semiautomatic rifles.
The demonstrations at the Gaza fence have taken place primarily on Fridays since March 30, and have already left dozens of people dead and thousands injured.
On the border, violence foretold
Declan Walsh, the Cairo bureau chief for The New York Times, got a taste of what was to come on Sunday when he went to the site of the protests in Gaza for what he originally thought would be an uneventful evening.
On the Gaza side of the fence, local residents milled about. On the other side, Israeli snipers watched.
Two bullets suddenly slammed into the ground in front of the Palestinians, who moved back but then regrouped and approached the fence. Another shot rang out, this time hitting a woman, who had to be rushed to the hospital.