Dozens of Palestinians killed in Gaza as 35,000 protest US embassy opening
Israel is bracing for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to stage mass protests in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Monday as the United States inaugurates its controversial new embassy in Jerusalem.
The protests against the embassy move on Monday are also taking place on the 70th anniversary of Israel's founding, the day after which is mourned by Palestinians as the Nakba, or "catastrophe," commemorating the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled in the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation.
The Palestinian health ministry reported on Monday that 18 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the Gaza Strip, where protests and clashes along the volatile border fence have been ongoing for seven consecutive weeks already
In the West Bank, protesters in Ramallah and El Bireh are set to march towards the Qalandiyah checkpoint near Jerusalem beginning at 11:00 a.m. local time, while protests are also planned in Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus and Jericho.
The National Committee to Commemorate the Nakba urged Palestinian youth in the West Bank to “clash with the occupation forces at points of contact and checkpoints” in order to “defend Jerusalem and oppose any attempt to distort the city’s identity.”
.The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) expects some 100,000 demonstrators to concentrate at three main locations beginning at around 10:00 a.m. local time, when busloads of protesters will be shuttled to the border.
There is concern that the protests in Gaza could turn deadly, as the Hamas rulers of the blockaded enclave called for thousands to breach the heavily fortified border security fence.
Israeli intelligence warned that there could be attempts on Monday by a large number of protesters to break through the border fence and attempt to vandalize IDF infrastructure near the border, while the IDF was also preparing against attempts to kidnap soldiers, Haaretz reported.
On Sunday, Hamas posted pictures and maps on social media showing the shortest routes from the border fence to nearby Israeli communities in case any protesters manage to breach the security fence.
Israel's Shin Bet security agency said Sunday that its interrogations of a several Gazans arrested after crossing the border into Israel revealed that Hamas is actively encouraging demonstrators, including children, to carry out acts of violence and vandalism along the border fence.
Hamas operatives, according to those interrogated, have participated in the protests dressed in civilian clothing and have been distributing gasoline, tires, and other incendiary devices to be used during the protests.
The Shin Bet investigation also revealed that Hamas militants themselves have been instructed not to approach the border fence for fear of being killed or captured by the IDF. If the border fence falls, however, armed operatives plan to enter Israel under the auspices of a mass border rush with the intention of carrying out attacks.
Israeli jets dropped leaflets on Monday morning warning Gazans who plan to take part in the protests against approaching the security fence that the army “will act against every attempt to damage the security fence or harm IDF soldiers or Israeli civilians”.
“To the rioters, you are taking part in violent riots which jeopardize your lives. Hamas is taking advantage of you in order to hide its failures and is threatening you and your family members' well-being,” read one of the leaflets. “Do not let Hamas cynically use you as its puppet. Stay away from the security fence, from terror instigators and the violent rioters! Save yourselves and prioritize building your future!” it warned.
A second leaflet took aim at Hamas, accusing the Islamist group of prioritizing the protests over the humanitarian needs of Gaza’s citizens.
“Hamas promised to improve the Gaza Strip's infrastructure – have they? Hamas promised to establish new medical and educational centers – have they? Hamas promised to tend to civilians' needs – have they? Hamas promised that participating in their riots would improve your lives – Do you think that'll happen?” the leaflet read.
There have already been weeks of protests and clashes along the Gaza border, with 54 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire there since March 30. No Israelis have been wounded and the military has faced criticism over the use of live fire.
Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, attacks and damage to the border fence, while accusing Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the blockaded Gaza Strip, of seeking to use the protests as cover to carry out violence.
The IDF is under order to prevent the infiltration of any protesters into Israeli territory by any means necessary, including by use of live ammunition.
Jerusalem's status is perhaps the thorniest issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
AFP contributed to this report.
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