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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — At least 58 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces and more than 2,700 others were wounded Monday after thousands of protesters converged on the razor-wire fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel as the U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem.
The Israeli Defense Forces opened fire on protesters approaching the barrier and accused the militant Palestinian group Hamas of “leading a terrorist operation under the cover of masses of people.” The military said “firebombs and explosive devices,” as well as rocks, were being thrown toward the barrier.
The Israeli military said the demonstration involved 40,000 people “taking part in violent riots” at 13 locations along the boundary. Israel built the 40-mile fence along Gaza’s land border for security reasons in 1994.
The Gaza protest started on March 30. Monday’s march was meant to express anger over the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy, while Tuesday is “Nakba,” or Catastrophe Day, so named for the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled after Israel was founded in 1948.
Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv breaks with decades of Washington policy and distances the United States from its allies. Palestinians also consider Jerusalem their capital.
Palestinians run for cover from tear gas east of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip on Monday.Mohammed Abed / AFP – Getty Images
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the only majority Muslim member of NATO, declared three days of mourning on Monday and withdrew his ambassadors in Washington and Tel Aviv for consultations.
“With this latest step, the United States has chosen to be a part of the problem and not the solution and has ceased to be and has lost its role as mediator in the Middle East peace process,” Erdogan said during a visit to London, where he met with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Eric Pahon, a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department, called Turkey “an indispensable partner in operations to defeat ISIS,” saying the two countries were continuing to work “on a variety of mutual security concerns.”
The protest movement started not with a bullet or a bomb, but with a hashtag.
“What if 200,000 demonstrators came out in a peaceful march and broke into the barbed wire east of Gaza?” Ahmed Abu Artema, 32, a Palestinian journalist, wrote on Facebook on Jan. 7.
“What can a heavily armed occupation do to those peaceful human waves?” he asked.
Artema ended the post with #GreatMarchofReturn — a slogan that went viral and then, two months later, blossomed into reality.
A total of 107 people have been killed and around 12,300 others wounded since the protests began on March 30, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Several hundred of the injured were children, according to Save the Children.
Addressing the bloodshed on Twitter, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in Hebrew: “Every country has an obligation to defend its borders. The Hamas terrorist organisation declares it intends to destroy Israel and sends thousands to breach the border fence in order to achieve this goal. We will continue to act with determination to protect our sovereignty and citizens.”