Gaza's deadly day: 1200 shot, more than 50 killed
MASS clashes to protest the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv has killed at least 52 Palestinians as Israel opened fire on the Gaza border.
The US move fulfilled a pledge by President Donald Trump, who has recognised the holy city as the Israeli capital, but it has fired Palestinian anger and drawn criticism from many foreign governments as a setback to peace efforts.
Gaza's Health Ministry says the number of deaths has made it the deadliest day in Gaza since a 2014 war with Israel.
It says 1204 Palestinians were shot and wounded in mass protests near the Gaza border fence with Israel. The ministry says this includes 116 who were in serious or critical condition.
The statement says about 1200 others suffered other types of injuries, including from teargas.
The Trump Administration continues to work to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. pic.twitter.com/K3beudaGA4— The White House (@WhiteHouse) May 14, 2018
The steadily climbing death toll was bound to fuel international criticism of the military's open-fire policies against unarmed protesters. Rights groups have said the rules are unlawful.
Israel says it is defending a sovereign border and accuses Gaza's Hamas rulers of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.
The world's largest body of Muslim-majority nations says it "strongly rejects and condemns" the White House's "deplorable action" to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation said it considers the US move an "illegal decision" and "an attack on the historical, legal, natural and national rights of the Palestinian people."
The organisation said the move also represents "an affront to international peace and security". The OIC said the US administration has "expressed utter disdain and disrespect to Palestinian legitimate rights and international law" and shown disregard toward the sentiments of Muslims, who value Jerusalem as home to one of Islam's holiest sites, the al-Aqsa mosque complex.
Staggering. UN says 55 Palestinians were reported killed by Israeli forces on Monday in #Gaza including 6 children. 2,771 people were reported injured, including 1,359 by live ammunition. Among the fatalities was one health worker. pic.twitter.com/tEU9k5EQUp— Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) May 14, 2018
The Palestinian Authority government has accused Israel of committing a "terrible massacre" while American and Israeli delegations have begun a festive ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.
US Ambassador David Friedman welcomed the crowd.
"Today we open the United States embassy in Jerusalem Israel," he said to warm applause.
Jared Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump, both top aides to President Donald Trump, are leading a high-powered American delegation that also includes the treasury secretary and four Republican senators.
Meanwhile, President Trump tweeted that it is a "big day" for Israel before giving a video address at the opening of the new embassy, in which he said it was a "long time coming".
Trump said that the US had "failed to acknowledge the obvious" for many years, adding that "today, we follow through on this recognition". He also added that the new embassy was opening "many, many years ahead of schedule".
The embassy move has enraged the Palestinians but the president said he remained committed to "facilitating a lasting peace agreement". He said he was "extending a hand of friendship to Israel, the Palestinians and to all of their neighbours".
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also in attendance. Addressing the opening ceremony of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem, Netanyahu called it a "glorious" day.
He thanked President Donald Trump for showing the "courage" to keep a key campaign promise and says relations with the US have never been stronger. He says Mideast peace must be founded on what he says is the "truth" recognised by the US.
"The truth is that Jerusalem has been and always will be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state," he said.
The Palestinians claim Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital and have strongly objected to Trump's move.
WHY IT MATTERS
IT'S a patch of land that has been bickered about since the stone age. And things aren't about to improve any time soon.
It stands at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and Asia. So little wonder it is home to such diverse cultures.
The kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Romans in 73AD. A democracy of that name was created by insurgency and United Nations Resolution in 1948.
But their ancient capital, Jerusalem, had long since been occupied by others.
Arabs. Muslims. Crusaders. Ottomans.
All lay claim to the hilly outcrop as a capital, a holy site - or both.
So the controversial establishment of the Jewish state - and its occupation of surrounding territories - has resulted in the city becoming once again a flashpoint of international (and internal) tensions.
Which is why so many nations attempted to avoid stirring the pot by granting Israel extra authority over the multicultural city by proxy. For that is how establishing embassies in the Jerusalem would be seen.
But US President Donald Trump has done away with such delicate diplomacy. He's sent his daughter and son-in-law to personally lead the opening ceremony of a new embassy in the holy city.
It's a move designed to send a message.
And, as such, there is a difference between the style and substance of the controversial act.
Here's what you need to know about the event scheduled for 11pm AEST tonight.
On the surface, it's a fairly routine event. Not something often overseen by Presidential families. It's a ceremony being held in honour of the relocation of the US Ambassador to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It's a move that recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
WHAT DOES THIS INVOLVE
The move of the US Ambassador is more about sending a signal to the Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians - and all other Middle Eastern nations - than moving the embassy itself. It's really a symbolic repositioning of about 50 staff, including the ambassador, to what is an existing US consulate building inside the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Arnona. But the remaining 800 members of the US embassy will remain in the existing compound on Hayarkon Street, Tel Aviv. The process of finding a place to house them all within the crowded Old City is yet to begin.
WHO WILL BE THERE?
President Trump's daughter Ivanka, her husband Jared Kushner and Secretary of the US Treasury Steven Mnuchin have already flown into Israel to attend the ceremony. So has an official delegation from US Congress.
The Palestinian Authority, which maintains its claim to much of Jerusalem and the territories occupied by Israel, is not speaking with the Trump administration. The President's declaration in December that he would move his embassy was seen as a slap in the face for ongoing negotiations and peace efforts. Jordan rejected the idea. The Arab League continues to argue that East Jerusalem should become the capital to a Palestinian state. But Honduras, Paraguay and Guatemala have since followed the US and announced they will reposition their own embassies in Jerusalem.
That President Trump is sending family as state dignitaries to such as significant event has raised eyebrows. But his choice of priest - Robert Jeffress - to make an opening dedication has also been controversial.
Not only is having a prayer unusual for a nation that has a constitutional separation of Church and State, but senior Republican figure Mitt Romney has said the controversial Baptist minister should have nothing to do with the Jerusalem event because he's a "religious bigot."
Recent fatal clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian activists have heightened fears of an incident during the Trump family's visit. Last week's intensive air attacks by Israel against Iranian forces within Syria is also seen by some as an attempt to prevent any embarrassment. But police have reportedly been working for three months to prepare the scene around the new US embassy site. Several thousand police - including special patrol units and border police - have been deployed. Israeli media is also reporting the nation's air force has been put on heightened alert for the event.
For the Israeli government and interest groups keen to exert Jewish ownership over the ancient city, this is a major achievement. The symbolic significance cannot be understated, as it is a bold declaration of the support the current US administration has for Israel's past and present actions. Interestingly, the existing consulate (now Jerusaelm embassy) is built on what was a no man's land demarcation zone at the UN-designated border of Jerusalem and Jordan before the 1967 Jordanian War.