The Israeli army killed dozens of Palestinians at the Gaza border Monday as the Gazans’ six weeks of demonstrations — and attempts to breach the border fence — heightened to protest the U.S. Embassy's historic move to Jerusalem.
The Gaza Health Ministry said 58 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli gunfire Monday, making it the bloodiest day of the protests by far, as Israeli security officials had predicted.
Around 35,000 people demonstrated at the border as Israeli and U.S. officials — including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — met in Jerusalem to celebrate the move of the embassy from Tel Aviv, fulfilling a promise by U.S. President Donald Trump.
More violence is expected Tuesday, the annual Nakba Day when the Palestinians mark the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation in 1948.
The Gaza Health Ministry said 1,113 Gazans were wounded Monday, around 30 of them in critical condition and more than 70 in serious condition. A total of 2,410 Gazans have been wounded in the clashes as a result of Israeli gunfire, tear gas and other crowd dispersal methods.
Two teenage boys, one 16 and one 14, were among the dead on Monday. Among the wounded was a Palestinian News Network correspondent who was shot in the leg east of Gaza City and an Al Jazeera journalist, Wael Dahdouh, who was "injured by live ammunition from Israeli forces," the Qatar-based news network reported.
During Monday's clashes, the air force struck five Hamas targets in northern Gaza in response to actions on the border by Hamas, including the throwing of firebombs at Israeli soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces said. Earlier in the day, the IDF said it had thwarted an attempt by three armed militants to place explosives near the fence not far from the Rafah crossing. The statement said the three had been killed by soldiers.
Firebombs thrown by Palestinians at the border caused fires at around 10 locations in Israel. During the six-week-long demonstrations, which are also meant to protest Israel's blockade on Gaza, protesters have flown kites carrying explosives across the border, starting fires in Israel that have damaged crops, pipelines and other infrastructure.
The military feared Hamas might retaliate for the strikes with rocket fire later in the day and deployed Iron Dome missile-defense systems. According to the IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the number of protesters at the fence Monday was "unprecedented," but still lower than what Hamas had predicted.
The air force began dropping leaflets over Gaza on Sunday evening to warn Palestinians against approaching the border or taking part in efforts to damage the fence or harm Israeli soldiers.
“The Israel Defense Forces is determined to defend Israel’s citizens and sovereignty against Hamas’ attempts at terrorism undercover of violent riots,” the leaflets say. “Don’t get near the fence and don’t take part in Hamas’ show, which endangers you.”
Because of the protests, the Erez crossing on Gaza's northern end stayed closed Monday except for humanitarian purposes. On Saturday, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south due to the fires set by protesters. The IDF said the crossing, the only one through which truck cargo passes from Israel to Gaza, would remain closed until the damage caused by the fires was repaired.
Addressing the violence in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "every nation has the right to defend its borders. Hamas clearly says its intentions are to destroy Israel and sends thousands to break through the border for that end. We will continue to act with resolve to defend our sovereignty and our citizens."
But the death toll Monday stoked condemnations around the world, with calls on Israel to show more restraint.
The United Nations' top human rights official, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, decried the "shocking killing of dozens, injury of hundreds by Israeli live fire," adding that "the right to life must be respected." UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply concerned with the incidents that took place in Gaza."
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called on Israel to abide by the "principle of proportionality in the use of force" and "respect the right to peaceful protest."
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May also voiced "concern" about "violence and loss of life in Gaza," while French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said "all actors" should "show responsibility to prevent a new escalation." Also Germany's Foreign Ministry said Israel's right to self-defense still meant it had to respect the principle of proportionality.
Harshly worded condemnations also came from the Muslim world, with the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan mentioning "another dark spot, another crime added to Israel's wall of shame." Turkey's Foreign Ministry described the clashes as a "massacre" against "Palestinians participating in peaceful demonstrations."
In Egypt, the Foreign Ministry condemned "the use of force against peaceful marches" but did not mention the opening of the U.S. Embassy, the main motive behind Monday's protests.
Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Join List of Arab parties, called the rising death toll a "bloodbath."
"Within just a few hours, 18 people have already lost their lives," he said early in the day. "Every shot fired and every person killed aggravates the violence .... Gaza has become a pressure cooker under which Israel stokes the fire," Odeh said, urging Israel to claim responsibility for Gaza's economic woes.
" [Israel] shut the door, leaving behind a humanitarian crisis — and threw the keys in the sea," he said.
Reuters, The Associated Press and DPA contributed to this report.