GAZA STRIP — Another day of protests is expected at the Gaza border Tuesday as international condemnation poured in over Israel’s use of force against unarmed Palestinian protesters this week.
At least 58 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops during protests over the Trump administration’s controversial opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, the deadliest day in Gaza since the 2014 Israeli invasion.
Doctors Without Borders called on the Israeli army to stop using deadly force against demonstrators, saying their actions were “unacceptable and inhuman.”
“This bloodbath is the continuation of the Israeli army’s policy during the last seven weeks: shooting with live ammunition at demonstrators, on the assumption that anyone approaching the separation fence is a legitimate target,” Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, the group’s representative in Gaza, said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron also condemned “the violence of the Israeli forces against protesters,” in a statement, while Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called on Israel to be “proportionate in its response and refrain from excessive use of force.”
In a phone call with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “condemned the attacks and wished Allah’s mercy to all martyrs,” according to the official Anadolu news agency. Turkey is recalling its ambassadors to Washington and Tel Aviv for consultations, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres was “profoundly alarmed” by the violence in Gaza and urged Israeli forces to “exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire,” his deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
A proposed UN Security Council press statement, put forward by Kuwait, was blocked by the US, according to a UN diplomat.
The draft statement, which was provided to CNN by a UN diplomat, included language expressing “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest.”
It also reaffirmed UN resolutions on the status of Jerusalem, saying that recent events had “no legal effect” under international law. The statement was not passed by the Security Council, after being withdrawn once the US blocked it, according to a UN diplomat.
Around 35,000 protesters gathered at the border of Gaza and Israeli territory Monday to object to the embassy move, continuing the “Great March of Return” demonstrations which have been ongoing since March in the run up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel and expulsion of thousands of Palestinians.
Israeli troops used tear gas and live ammunition to try and disperse the crowd, killing at least 58 and injuring as many as 2,700, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Most of the dead were killed by Israeli fire near the border. CNN journalists heard gunshots in spurts and saw a tank moving toward the fence in the border area of Malaka. Israeli drones also dropped tear gas in an effort to disperse protesters.
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) accused the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, of “leading a terrorist operation” and inciting the protesters, who had assembled in numerous locations along the border fence, to conduct what Israel described as terror attacks.
The military alleged some protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and burned tires. The IDF also claimed to have foiled an attack by three armed Palestinians near Rafah, close to the border with Egypt, during “a particularly violent demonstration.”
Many of the injured Palestinians were young men who were hit by live ammunition, according to British-Palestinian Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitteh, who spoke to CNN from a hospital run by a British charity in Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza.
Monday’s death toll was the biggest number of fatalities suffered in one day since the latest round of demonstrations began more than six weeks ago. The previous high was 17, which happened on the day the protests started on March 30.
More protests to come
Palestinian Authority President Abbas convened an emergency government meeting on Monday afternoon and announced a general strike and three days of mourning, both to start Tuesday.
“Today is one of the most ferocious days our people have seen,” Abbas said, before turning his thoughts to the newly-anointed US Embassy. “Before we were suffering from illegal Israeli settlements. Now it’s another illegal settlement by the Israel and the United States.”
The embassy move is contentious for Palestinians, who hope to claim part of Jerusalem as their future capital, and for many in the Arab world, as it is home to some of the holiest sites in Islam. The city is also home to deeply holy sites for Jews and Christians.
Several top Trump administration officials were on hand to witness the official unveiling of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, marking the formal upending of decades of American foreign policy.
President Donald Trump did not attend the ceremony, but in a video message broadcast at the event he congratulated Israel, saying the opening had been “a long time coming.”
“Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like every other sovereign nation to determine its own capital, yet for many years, we failed to acknowledge the obvious, the plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem,” Trump said in the pre-recorded remarks.
While Monday’s protests in Gaza were organized to coincide with the embassy opening, the demonstrations are about far more than the change in status of the US consulate building in Jerusalem.
On every Friday since the end of March, tens of thousands have marched to the border to take part in “Great March of Return” protests, which seek to highlight Palestinians’ right to return to homes lost by their ancestors during the war that accompanied the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
The protests culminate on Tuesday with the anniversary of what Palestinians call Nakba Day, or “Day of Catastrophe,” which marks when the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were either expelled from or fled their homes during the wars that surrounded Israel’s foundation. Thousands are expected to attend Tuesday’s demonstration.
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