GAZA/JERUSALEM • Israeli troops killed dozens of Palestinians who were taking part in mass protests on the Gaza border as the United States opened its embassy to Israel in disputed Jerusalem.
The US move fulfilled a pledge by US President Donald Trump, who has recognised the holy city, claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians, as the Israeli capital, but it has fired Palestinian anger and drawn criticism from many foreign governments as a setback to peace efforts.
"Today we open the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel," US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said at the inaugural ceremony, attended by a US delegation led by Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, and Israeli leaders.
In a video address, Mr Trump affirmed the status quo at Jerusalem holy sites and said the US was committed to facilitating a peace deal. He also said the Jerusalem embassy move was "a long time coming".
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in lockstep with Mr Trump over fulfilling a longstanding US promise to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city and over Washington's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last week, hailed the move.
"This is a great day. A great day for Jerusalem. A great day for the state of Israel. A day that will be engraved in our national memory for generations," Mr Netanyahu said in a speech at the ceremony.
He thanked Mr Trump for "having the courage" to keep his promise to move the embassy.
On the Gaza border, Palestinian protests quickly turned into bloodshed. Israeli gunfire killed at least 52 Palestinians, the highest toll in a single day since a series of protests demanding the right to return to ancestral homes in Israel began on March 30. Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said the dead included six children under the age of 18. Health officials said over 2,400 Palestinians were wounded, about 1,200 of whom were shot.
The Israeli military said that some in the crowds were planting or hurling explosives, and that many were flying flaming kites into Israel.
Outside the Nahal Oz kibbutz, just across from protests east of Gaza City, emergency workers raced to try to extinguish a rapidly spreading wildfire caused by one incendiary kite, as four others could be seen sailing overhead.
Tens of thousands had streamed to Gaza's land border, some approaching the Israeli fence - a line Israeli leaders said Palestinians would not be allowed to breach.
Clouds of black smoke from tyres set alight by demonstrators rose in the air. Demonstrators, some armed with slingshots, hurled stones at the Israeli security forces, who fired volleys of tear gas and intense rounds of gunfire.
"Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever," said Gaza science teacher Ali, who declined to give his last name.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply concerned" over the events in Gaza, while the European Union and France called for restraint.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the US embassy move "violated international law and, in particular, UN Security Council resolutions".
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' spokesman said the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem would create incitement and instability in the region and ruled out Washington as being a mediator for Middle East peace.
The status of Jerusalem - home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian places of worship - is perhaps the thorniest issue in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Most countries say the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a final peace settlement and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal. Peace talks aimed a finding a two-state solution to the conflict have been frozen since 2014.
Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit yesterday blasted as "shameful" countries that were celebrating the opening of the US embassy.
The Arab League will hold emergency talks tomorrow to discuss "ways of countering the illegal decision by the United States to move the embassy to Jerusalem".