Palestinians mark Nakba, mourn 60 killed by Israel

At least 114 Palestinians have been killed by Israel along the Gaza border since March 30.
Tuesday 15/05/2018
Palestinians run for cover from Israeli tear gas near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, on May 14. (AFP)
Palestinians run for cover from Israeli tear gas near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, on May 14. (AFP)

LONDON - Fresh protests were expected a day after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians during clashes and protests along the Gaza border against the US embassy opening in Jerusalem in the conflict's bloodiest day in years.

Palestinians on May 15 mark the Nakba, or "catastrophe," commemorating the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled in 1948 after Israel's creation.

A majority of Gaza's 2 million people are descendants of refugees, and the protests have been billed as the "Great March of Return" to long-lost homes in what is now Israel.

It comes a day after the United States transferred its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city of Jerusalem in a move that infuriated the Palestinians and was widely condemned.

The embassy inauguration followed Trump's December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Beyond the disputed nature of Jerusalem, the date of the embassy move was also key. May 14 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel.

Most of the 60 Gazans who died were shot by Israeli snipers, Gaza's health ministry said.

The toll included a baby who died from tear gas inhalation along with eight children under the age of 16, the ministry said.

At least 2,400 others were wounded in the bloodiest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war.

Khaled Batch, the head of the grassroots organising committee of the protests, said May 15 Tuesday will be a day for funerals.

Tens of thousands had gathered near the border in protest while smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians approached the fence, with Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.

The death toll led to strong condemnation from rights groups and concern from a range of countries. But the United States blocked the adoption of a UN Security Council statement that would have called for an independent probe into the violence, diplomats at the United Nations said.

Gaza living conditions
Gaza living conditions

Despite the violence, the embassy inauguration went on as planned in Jerusalem, attended by a Washington delegation that included US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, both White House aides.

Trump addressed the gathering by video. "Our greatest hope is for peace," he said, despite the Palestinian anger the move has provoked.

Israel and The White House blamed Hamas for the violence. But French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the "violence of the Israeli armed forces against the protesters" as several countries urged restraint.

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called on Israel to respect the "principle of proportionality in the use of force" and show restraint, while also urging Hamas to ensure any protests remain peaceful. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a similar appeal.

Britain's minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt acknowledged "Israel's right to defend its borders" but also said "the large volume of live fire is extremely concerning."

"We continue to implore Israel to show greater restraint," he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of "state terror" and "genocide."

Turkey also said it was recalling its ambassadors to the United States and Israel "for consultations," while South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel "until further notice."

At least 114 Palestinians have been killed in a campaign of protests along the Gaza border since March 30, the vast majority by Israeli snipers. Only one Israeli soldier has been reported wounded during that time.

Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community. Jerusalem's status is perhaps the thorniest issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the West Bank, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas declared May 15 a general strike. He urged the international community to condemn what he said were "massacres" carried out by Israeli troops in Gaza, and officials said the Palestinians would file a war crimes complaint against Israel in the International Criminal Court over settlement construction.

To both Israel and the Palestinians, the American embassy gesture is widely seen as siding with Israel on the most sensitive issue in their longstanding conflict. The Palestinians have cut off ties with the Trump administration and say the US is unfit to serve as a mediator.

"What a glorious day. Remember this moment. This is history," Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the embassy inauguration ceremony. "You can only build peace on truth, and the truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state," he added.

The new embassy will temporarily operate from an upgraded, existing US consulate building, until a decision is made on a permanent location. Even the current location is sensitive, located partially in an area designated "no-man's land" in a 1949 armistice agreement. The UN considers that land to be occupied territory.

The move of the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, coupled with the killings of dozens of Palestinian protesters, makes the odds of a US-brokered peace even more remote.

"It’s hard to see how any Palestinian leader could go back to an American-sponsored peace process" given the embassy move and the Gaza killings, Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to the Palestinian leadership now at Washington's Brookings Institution think tank, told Reuters.

"If and when the administration puts forward a peace plan, it is most likely DOA (dead on arrival)," he added, saying Trump had done nothing to calm matters. "At a minimum, that would require urging the Israelis to stop using lethal force against unarmed protesters.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)