At least 28 Palestinians were wounded during protests along the Gaza border today amid fears of escalating violence as America moved its embassy to Jerusalem.
Protesters streamed to the frontier to join the demonstration despite Israel warning Gaza residents they would risk their lives if they tried to breach the border fence.
Military jets dropped leaflets over Gaza warning that the Israeli army would “act against every attempt to damage the security fence or harm IDF (Israel Defence Forces) soldiers or Israeli civilians”.
Leaders of Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, said tens of thousands were expected to head to the border and raised the possibility of large crowds breaking through.
Donald Trump was expected to address by video link the official embassy opening being attended by some 800 dignitaries including his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who leads the presidential Middle East team.
By noon today, thousands of Palestinians had massed at five locations along the line, and at least 28, including two local journalists, were wounded by Israeli gunfire, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Tear gas was also fired by Israeli soldiers into Gaza and Israeli drones were reported to have dropped incendiary materials, setting ablaze tyres stockpiled by activists to burn to create a black smoke cover against army snipers.
Tensions in the region were at boiling point as a small interim US embassy started operating in the existing US consulate building in Jerusalem.
A larger site will be found to enable the full embassy move from Tel Aviv.
Today’s embassy opening ceremony was brought forward to coincide with the state of Israel’s 70th anniversary.
It also came on the eve of the day which Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba” or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of their people fled their homes or were displaced following the 1948 foundation of the Israeli state.
Israeli troops have killed at least 42 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,800 since protests, dubbed the “Great March of Return”, began on March 30, according to Palestinian health officials.
They are expected to peak tomorrow and the death toll has sparked international criticism, though Israel says it is defending the border and firing in accordance with the rules of engagement.
It also accuses Hamas of using the protests as a cover to launch attacks against the border fence and Israeli soldiers, a claim which Hamas denies.
The US presidents’s decision to move the embassy has infuriated Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Only three countries, Guatemala, Paraguay and the Czech Republic, have said they will follow the US lead.
Most of the world, including the UK, maintain embassies in Tel Aviv, saying the Jerusalem issue must first be resolved.
Britain, Germany, France and other nations boycotted a gala party thrown by Israel last night to mark the move.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Mr Trump’s “bold” decision.
“Under any peace deal Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital,” he argued from a stage bedecked with American and Israeli flags at the event held in the courtyard of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has cut ties with the Trump administration and declared it unfit to remain in its role as the sole mediator in peace talks.
But Mr Trump’s allies have sought to portray the embassy opening as an essential step toward an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, by denying the Palestinians leverage over the future of Jerusalem and also hoping it will pave the way to Israel being more willing to compromise.
Mr Trump’s Middle East peace negotiator, Jason Greenblatt, tweeted that “the long-overdue step of moving our Embassy is not a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace deal”