Mass Gaza protests ahead of US embassy event

Gaza: One Palestinian was shot and killed by Israeli occupation forces as thousands of Gaza residents headed towards the border with Israel on Monday for a potentially bloody showdown. This comes as the Israeli regime prepared for the festive inauguration of a new US Embassy in occupied Jerusalem.

Monday’s march was to be the biggest yet in a weeks-long campaign against a decade-old blockade of the territory. As crowds began to gather, Israeli occupation troops fired from across the border fence, killing one and wounding two Palestinians trying to move closer.

The march is also directed at the inauguration of the US embassy in occupied Jerusalem later Monday. The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv has infuriated the Palestinians, who seek occupied east Jerusalem as a future capital.

The big protest is the culmination of a campaign, led by Hamas and fuelled by despair among Gaza’s 2 million people, to break the decade-old border blockade of the territory by Israel and Egypt. Since weekly border marches began in late March, about 50 Palestinian protesters have been killed and more than 1,800 wounded by Israeli occupation regime fire.

Hamas leaders have suggested a border breach is possible Monday, while the Israeli regime has warned it would prevent protesters from breaking through the barrier at any cost. There is growing concern about large numbers of casualties.

The protest also marks the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian nakba, or catastrophe, a reference to the uprooting of hundreds of thousands who fled or were expelled from what is now Israel during the 1948 war.

A majority of Gaza’s 2 million people are descendants of refugees, and the protests have been billed as the “Great March of Return.”

In one of the border areas east of Gaza City, Mohammad Hamami, a 40-year-old civil servant, joined a crowd of hundreds of protesters, along with his mother and five children.

“Today we are here to send a message to Israel and its allies that we will never give up on our land,” he said.

“We will cross the border and impose new realities like the reality Trump imposed in [occupied] Jerusalem,” he added, referring to President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then move the US Embassy there.

Some protesters moved to within about 150 meters of the border fence. A reporter saw two men who tried to advance further being shot in the legs by Israeli occupation troops.

Clouds of black smoke from burning tires rose into the air. Earlier Monday, Israeli drones dropping incendiary material had pre-emptively set ablaze some of the tires collected in advance by activists.

Protesters have used the thick smoke as cover against Israeli snipers perched on high sand berms on the other side of the border.

Leaflets dropped over Gaza by army jets warned that those approaching the border “jeopardise” their lives.

In occupied Jerusalem, top Trump administration officials attended events linked to the inauguration of the embassy later Monday.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that it is a US “national security priority” to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem.

Trump’s decision to go forward with a campaign promise to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem was welcomed by Israel and condemned by the Palestinians. Previous presidents had signed a waiver postponing the move, citing national security.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community. The Palestinians seek the city’s eastern half as the capital of a future state.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cut ties with the Trump administration and declared it unfit to remain in its role as the sole mediator in peace talks.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Abbas aide, blasted the Trump administration Monday, saying Trump had violated a promise to hold off on moving the embassy to give peace talks a chance and that his administration is “based on lies.”

Erekat said the Trump administration has “become part of the problem, not part of the solution.” He suggested Trump’s Mideast team is unqualified, saying “the world needs real leaders, and those (White House officials) are real estate dealers, not leaders.”

Administration officials have dismissed Palestinian criticism, portraying the embassy opening as an essential step towards an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. However, they have not said how they will move forward without the Palestinians.

Although Trump has said his declaration does not set the final borders of the city, his recognition of occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been perceived by both Israel and the Palestinians as taking Israel’s side in the most sensitive issue in their conflict. Only two countries, Guatemala and Paraguay, have said they will follow suit. Most of the world maintains embassies in Tel Aviv, saying the occupied Jerusalem issue must first be resolved.

In a reflection of the deep sensitivities, dozens of countries – including Britain, France and Germany – skipped a celebration Sunday night at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Monday’s opening will be attended by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who both serve as White House advisers. Kushner leads the Trump Mideast team.