Dozens dead in US embassy protests in Gaza

Akram and Josef Federman
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MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS

At least 55 Palestinians have died in the deadliest day of fighting since the border protests began

Israeli forces have shot and killed at least 58 Palestinians and wounded more than 2700 during mass protests along the Gaza border, while just a few kilometres away Israel and the US held a festive inauguration ceremony for the new American Embassy in contested Jerusalem.

It was by far the deadliest day of cross-border violence since a devastating 2014 war between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers, and further dimmed the already bleak prospects for President Donald Trump's hoped-for peace plan.

Throughout the day, Gaza protesters set tires ablaze, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air, and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops across the border.

The Israeli military, which has come under international criticism for using excessive force against unarmed protesters, said Hamas tried to carry out bombing and shooting attacks under the cover of the protests and released video of protesters ripping away parts of the barbed-wire border fence.

Monday's protests culminated more than a month of weekly demonstrations aimed at breaking a crippling Israeli-Egyptian border blockade. But the US Embassy move, bitterly opposed by the Palestinians, added further fuel.

There was barely any mention of the Gaza violence at Monday's lavish inauguration ceremony for the new embassy, an upgraded consular building located just 80km away.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials joined an American delegation of Trump administration officials and Republican and evangelical Christian supporters.

Monday's steadily climbing death toll and wall-to-wall condemnation of the embassy move in the Arab world raised new doubts about Trump's ambitions to broker what he called the "deal of the century." More than a year after taking office, Trump's Mideast team has yet to produce a long-promised peace plan.

Trump said recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital acknowledges the reality that Israel's government is located there as well as the ancient Jewish connection to the city. He insists the decision has no impact on future negotiations on the city's final borders.

The Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as their capital, have cut off ties with the Trump administration and say the US is unfit to serve as a mediator. Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognised.

At least 58 Palestinians, including a young girl and four other minors, were killed, the Gaza Health Ministry said. It said 1,360 Palestinians were wounded by gunfire, including 130 who were in serious or critical condition.

Monday marked the biggest showdown in years between Israel's military and Gaza's Hamas rulers along the volatile border. The sides have largely observed a cease-fire since the 2014 war - their third in a decade.

Since the protests began on March 30, 105 Palestinians have been killed, most of them protesters.