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Scores of Palestinians killed at Gaza border as US Embassy moves to Jerusalem

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Protesters carry away the wounded shot by Israeli forces as medical units are overwhelmed by casualties on the border fence separating Israel and Gaza in a camp east of Gaza City, Gaza on May 14, 2018. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Vivid split-screen realities played out Monday in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip as the Trump administration brought to symbolic fruition its controversial decision to move the U.S. Embassy to the holy city, while dozens died in a chaotic confrontation between Israeli troops and Palestinians seeking to breach the squalid enclave’s frontier.

The embassy inauguration, presided over by dignitaries including President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law and Mideast adviser Jared Kushner, drew wide condemnation from across the Arab world, and was shunned by U.S. allies in western Europe. The festivities posed an arresting contrast to the bloodshed only 50 miles to the south, where at least 52 Palestinians died on the most violent day in weeks of clashes between Gaza protesters and Israeli forces.

More than 2,200 were injured, according to Palestinian officials.

With Israeli warplanes roaring overhead in tribute, the American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, declared that the embassy move to contested Jerusalem was a decisive U.S. endorsement of “the right we extend to every other nation — the right to designate its capital city.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a key Trump ally who has hailed U.S. moves such as the pullout from the Iranian nuclear deal, praised the U.S. president for “having the courage to keep our promises.” The embassy move was a longstanding Trump pledge, dating back to campaign days.

“What a glorious day for Israel!” Netanyahu said. ‘We are in Jerusalem, and we are here to stay.”

On the Gaza frontier, flaming tires set alight by protesters sent columns of black smoke aloft as demonstrators fled Israeli fire, some of it from tanks. Israel said protesters hurled firebombs and stones as they tried to break through the border fence, and that its troops came under fire, although no fatalities were reported on the Israeli side.

In a video message played at the embassy celebrations, Trump shrugged off qualms about the American ability to serve as an honest broker in any future Mideast peace talks, declaring that the United States remains committed to “facilitating a lasting peace agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians.

At the Jerusalem ceremony, Kushner sought to place blame for the day’s violence — and unrest preceding the embassy inauguration — on Palestinian protesters.

“Those provoking violence are part of the problem, and not part of the solution,” he said.

Protesters run away from tear gas dispersed by Israeli forces as they inch closer to the border fence separating Israel and Gaza in a camp east of Gaza City, Gaza on May 14, 2018. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The U.S. delegation also included four GOP senators and Trump’s treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

The embassy’s formal but temporary move from a sprawling fortified bunker in Tel Aviv to an existing consulate facility in Jerusalem is in many ways symbolic. No decision has been made on a permanent location for the main American diplomatic mission.

The protests in Gaza, ruled by the militant group Hamas, were intended to mark the climax of a weeks-long bid to protest the 70th anniversary of Israel’s creation and the mass Palestinian displacement that accompanied it.

Palestinians had been protesting at the Gaza border since March 30, demanding the right to reclaim ancestral homes in Israel. Netanyahu’s government, and preceding Israeli administrations, have deemed the “right of return” a nonstarter.

Palestinian health officials said nearly half of the injuries — more than 2,200 — were caused by live ammunition, a higher toll than on previous days. Others were hit by rubber bullets and shrapnel or were overwhelmed by tear gas.

The international community, which has repeatedly expressed worries over the protests, called for restraint by both sides. The U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, said he was “deeply concerned” by the day’s violence.

Human rights groups for weeks have denounced Israeli use of lethal force against the demonstrators, and did so again Monday, but in stronger terms.

“The policy of Israeli authorities to fire irrespective of whether there is an immediate threat to life on Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza, caged in for a decade and under occupation for a half century, has resulted in a bloodbath that anyone could have foreseen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch.

In Gaza, by mid-morning, thousands of people were streaming toward five protest camps set up along Gaza’s eastern border with Israel. Some were wrapped in the Palestinian flag; others carried knives and wire cutters to break through the security barriers erected by Israeli forces.

Terrified for their daughter’s safety, Shireen Nusralla’s parents locked her in her room Monday so she would not risk her life at the protests. But the 30-year-old woman said she sneaked out through a window.

“I’m not afraid,” she declared as she walked toward a camp east of Gaza City, carrying a large Palestinian flag. “My dream is to get martyred or to kidnap an Israeli soldier.”

The protesters had spent days collecting tires from across Gaza, which they set on fire along the border to create smokescreens to conceal the demonstrators from Israeli snipers. Israeli forces fired volleys of tear gas and bullets into the clouds of thick black smoke to drive back waves of protesters. But still they kept coming.

Some used slingshots and even a makeshift catapult to hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers, while others tried to cut through rolls of barbed wire.

The injured were carried away on bloodied stretchers in a steady stream and loaded onto ambulances for the short drive to a makeshift field hospital. Sirens wailed and music blared from loudspeakers set up to encourage the protesters.

Many in Gaza say they feel abandoned by Arab nations, which have remained largely silent about the protests.

“What is happening here is craziness,” one enraged man yelled at a cluster of television cameras. “Look how many people are injured. Where is Jordan? Where is Egypt? Where is Algeria? Where is Dubai?”

By midafternoon, ambulances were pulling up every few minutes at a makeshift field hospital set up by the Ministry of Health. Patients were loaded onto tables and quickly treated or transferred to hospitals to make way for the next arrivals.

Hamas, unsurprisingly, blamed Israeli forces for what it described as the deliberate killing of unarmed protesters.

“These crimes would never happen without the decisions of America, which is supporting Israel, as well as the regional and international silence,” the group said in a statement.

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