Israeli soldiers on Monday killed 41 Palestinians demonstrating along the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip and wounded more than 1,600 in the bloodiest day in the enclave since the 2014 war with Israel, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Thousands of Palestinians gathered on the edges of Gaza as the U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem, fanning out along the fence in what appeared to be some of the largest demonstrations yet.
At a gathering point east of Gaza City, organizers urged demonstrators to burst through the fence, telling them Israeli soldiers were fleeing their positions, even as they were reinforcing them.
At the barrier, young men threw stones and tried to launch kites carrying flames in hopes of burning crops on the other side. Most of the demonstrators, though, were peaceful, protesting the loss of their homes and villages and the embassy move.
Occasional sporadic gunfire could be heard over the noise of the crowd, and a constant stream of ambulances roared back and forth from the fence, ferrying away the wounded.
Israel dropped leaflets urging Palestinians to stay away from the fence.
“Save your lives and work on building your futures,” the leaflets said.
The military also said it would “act forcefully against any terrorist activity,” and it carried out an airstrike on Hamas military posts in northern Gaza after its troops came under fire.
Demonstrations are planned across the Palestinian territories to protest the U.S. decision to shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital, seen as a major blow to the Palestinian cause.
But they were expected to be largest in Gaza, where six weeks of demonstrations dubbed the “March of Return” will reach a climax this week. Before Monday, Israeli snipers had already killed nearly 50 Palestinians in the unrest at the fence, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and wounded 2,240 more.
The embassy move has added extra friction to what was already a highly charged week. Scuffles broke out in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday as Israelis celebrated the “reunification” of the city, an annexation not recognized internationally. The opening of the embassy on Monday is followed by Nakba Day on Tuesday — when Palestinians mark the anniversary of mass expulsions and flight that displaced an estimated 700,000 people when Israel was founded 70 years ago.