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Shocking rise in death toll, U.S. opens embassy in Jerusalem

Sheetal Sukhija - Tuesday 15th May, 2018

TEL AVIV, Israel - On the same day as the U.S. opened its controversial new embassy in Jerusalem, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces at the Gaza boundary fence rose to 59.

On Tuesday, a day after thousands of Palestinians stormed the Gaza border in protest of the controversial move by the U.S., authorities confirmed that the death toll had risen and that an infant too had died overnight from tear gas inhalation.

According to local health officials, Monday’s protests saw a level of bloodshed not seen in Gaza since the violent days of the 2014 war with Israel.

Authorities fear that the death toll could rise further as residents bury the dead and prepare to mark the anniversary of Israel’s founding, known to them as the “Nakba,” or “Catastrophe.”

On Monday, the U.S. opened its embassy in Jerusalem at a U.S. consular building in the Arnona neighbourhood, a move that delighted Israel but infuriated Palestinians.

The anniversary opening came months after Trump decided to break with decades of U.S. policy and recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The embassy move was welcomed by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that the U.S. President’s decision reflected that "the Jewish people have had a capital for 3,000 years, and that it is called Jerusalem." 

However, the Arab world and Western allies were upset with Trump’s move and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a "slap in the face.”

He declared that the United States can no longer be regarded as an honest broker in any peace talks with Israel. 

The Palestinians want to make the eastern, mainly Palestinian, part of the city the capital of their future state and have argued that Trump's decision ignores their demands.

On Monday, as the inauguration got underway in Jerusalem, at the troubled Gaza border, several thousand Palestinians gathered along the border, as smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians approached the fence.

Official said that the death toll more than doubled the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza during six weeks of demonstrations, called the “March of Return.”

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s protests to mark the Nakba, are expected to be significantly smaller in comparison.

Further, the organizing committee has also called for a day of mourning

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that over 2,700 people were injured, including 1,359 from live ammunition. 

The ministry also said that the dead included at least seven children under the age of 18, including a 15-year-old girl and an eight months old baby - who died inhaling tear gas at the main protest area east of Gaza City.

In a statement, the United Nations said that “those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch described the killings as a “bloodbath.” 

Further, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned a continuing “massacre” of the Palestinian people.

Over fears of escalating violence, Turkey and South Africa announced they were recalling their ambassadors from Israel.

However, the Trump administration has blamed Hamas for the loss of life.

Addressing reporters at a briefing, deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said, “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Israel has the right to defend itself.”

Medics have said they were overwhelmed at Gaza City’s main al-Shifaa hospital, with Ayman al-Sahbani, the head of the emergency department saying, “I don't know how we will manage. How long can this go on? How long? We’ve reached the critical point now. A lot of people need operations soon, but the operation room is full.” 

According to figures released by Gaza Health Ministry, at least 110 Gazans have been killed over the past six weeks.

Meanwhile, at the demonstrations east of Gaza City, some said the force used by Israel would only bring further unrest. 

Some local reports noted that drones dropped canisters of tear gas, sending crowds fleeing, while other drones dropped leaflets that urged demonstrators to stay back from the fence.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military said that they had brought two extra brigades to the Gaza border in preparation for the demonstrations and added additional “defense lines” in an effort to prevent any mass invasion into Israeli communities near the border. 

Further, the military added that at least 40,000 people protested in 13 places along the fence — more than twice as many locations as in past weeks of protest. 

The military added that ‘especially violent riots’ took place near the southern Gazan city of Rafah, and it was here that three people were killed after trying to plant an explosive. 

The military added that it would “act forcefully against any terrorist activity,” and it carried out an airstrike on Hamas military posts in northern Gaza after Israeli troops came under fire.

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