GAZA: Violent clashes erupted along the Gaza Strip’s border hours ahead of the controversial opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, leaving 16 Palestinians dead from Israeli fire and hundreds more wounded.
With a White House delegation and Israeli officials set to gather for the inauguration ceremony, the Gaza clashes had wounded more than 500 Palestinians in addition to the 16 killed, the Gazan health ministry said. The dead included a 14-year-old, according to the ministry.
Thousands had gathered near the border in protest while smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians were approaching the fence and trying to break through, with Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.
Crowds built throughout the day in the Palestinian enclave less than 100 kilometres away from Jerusalem and sealed off from Israel by a blockade.
Israel’s military said “approximately 10,000 violent rioters are currently assembled in a number of locations along the Gaza Strip border and thousands more are gathered by the tents approximately half a kilometre away from the security fence”.
It said soldiers “are responding with riot dispersal means and fire, and are operating according to standard operating procedures”.
The inauguration that follows US President Donald Trump’s deeply controversial December 6 recognition of the disputed city as Israel’s capital also comes at a time of heightened regional tensions.
It follows Trump’s announcement last week that the United States is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and Israeli strikes two days later on dozens of Iranian targets in Syria.
Those strikes came after rocket fire toward Israeli forces in the occupied Golan Heights that Israel blamed on Iran.
The Trump administration has vowed to restart the moribund Middle East peace process but the embassy move has inflamed tensions.
On Sunday, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a message saying America’s decision was evidence that “appeasement” has failed Palestinians and urged Muslims to carry out jihad against the US, according to a transcript provided by the SITE monitoring agency.
Monday’s inauguration ceremony at 4:00pm (1300 GMT) will include around 800 guests — though not Trump himself — at what until now had been a US consulate building in Jerusalem.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan will lead the Washington delegation that includes Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, both White House aides, as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.—INP