Gaza, May 15 : The number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli forces rose to 61 on Tuesday, as more protesters succumbed to their injuries following mass demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel boundary on Monday against the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.
Monday’s protests drew a level of bloodshed not seen in Gaza since a 2014 war with Israel and more could be ahead as residents bury the dead and prepare to mark the anniversary of Israel’s founding, known to Palestinians as the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe”.
More than two-thirds of Gaza’s population is descended from refugees who were displaced at the time of Israel’s creation 70 years ago.
Israeli officials, however, justified the military’s tactics as necessary to stop the Palestinians from breaking into Israel, which has blockaded Gaza for more than a decade after the militant group Hamas took control of the area.
Omar Abu Fool, 30, was the latest protester to die, Efe news agency quoted Ashraf al-Qedra, the Ministry of Health spokesperson in Gaza, as saying while another 2,771 Palestinian protesters were wounded by the Israeli army, 225 of whom were minors.
Shortly before dawn on Tuesday, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) stated that “it was unbearable to witness such a massive number of unarmed people being shot in such a short time”.
“Our medical teams are providing surgical and post-operative care, they will continue to do so as long as they are needed,” MSF said via its official Twitter account.
The US embassy move from Tel Aviv was widely denounced as a blow to peace efforts in the region and a slap at the Palestinians, who consider part of Jerusalem the capital of a possible future state.
UN Human Rights spokesman Rupert Colville on Tuesday said that while Israel had a right to defend itself, lethal force should be a last resort and was not justified on people just approaching the fence. He condemned Monday’s “appalling deadly violence”, the Washington Post reported.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also condemned the continuing “massacre” of the Palestinian people. Turkey and South Africa announced they were recalling their envoys from Israel.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called on Muslim countries to review their ties with Israel in the wake of the violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later attacked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Twitter, saying that he “is one of the great supporters of Hamas, and there is no doubt that he understands terror and the massacres well, and I suggest that he not preach morality to us”.
Israeli newspapers contrasted the upbeat inauguration ceremony for the US Embassy with pictures of the violence on the border but couched it in terms of the country protecting itself.
“Every country must protect its borders,” wrote Netanyahu in a tweet. “Hamas is a terrorist organisation that states its intention to destroy Israel and it sends thousands of people to breach the border fence to realize this goal. We will continue to act firmly to protect our sovereignty and our citizens.”
He was backed by the Trump administration, which blamed Hamas for the loss of life. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters at a briefing.
Since the “Great March of Return” protests began on March 30, at least 109 Palestinians have been killed and 12,000 injured.