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US embassy opens in Jerusalem amid lockdown

US President Donald Trump addresses ceremony video link as protests spread across occupied Palestinian territories.


The United States has officially relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in a deeply controversial move that angered Palestinians and drew widespread regional condemnation.

The ceremony on Monday took place amid road closures and heavy police presence in anticipation of Palestinian protests, as well as deadly demonstrations in Gaza calling for the refugees' right to return to the areas they were forcibly expelled from 70 years ago.

US President Donald Trump - who in December 2017 declared Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a move long-sought by Israel - addressed the ceremony via a recorded video message.

"Today we follow through on this recognition and open our embassy in the historic and sacred land of Jerusalem and we're opening it many, many years ahead of schedule," Trump said.

He added that the US "remains fully committed to facilitating a lasting peace agreement".

Deadliest day in years

His comments came as at least 43 Palestinian demonstrators were killed by Israeli forces near the Gaza-Israel border.

More than 1,900 others were also wounded as the Israeli army fired live ammunition, tear gas and firebombs at protesters assembled along several points near the fence with Israel.

Many were in critical condition and there were fears the death toll could rise in what was the deadliest day for Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since the 2014 Gaza war.

But addressing the Jerusalem ceremony in person, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised "our brave soldiers protecting the border ... as we speak today" and said the embassy move marked a "glorious day".

"Remember this moment, this is history," Netanyahu said.

"We have no better friends in the world, you stand for Israel and you stand for Jerusalem ... President Trump, by recognising history, you have made history ... We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay."

US embassy in Jerusalem

The demonstrations in Gaza follow a weeks-long protest calling for the right of return for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to the areas they were forcibly expelled from in 1948.

Israeli forces have killed at least 90 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave and wounded an estimated 10,500 others since the protests began on March 30.  

Israeli police said that up to 1,000 officers were posted around the embassy's new location in the southwest neighbourhood of Arnona and its surrounding areas.  

The closures spread to occupied East Jerusalem, where access to the Old City was curtailed from areas extending to it such as al-Tur, Mount of Olives, Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

At the Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at Palestinian youth who were throwing stones.

'Incitement and instability'

Prior to Netanyahu's speech, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner told those assembled at the ceremony Jerusalem was the "eternal heart of the Jewish people".

Kushner said Trump's decision "did not reflect a departure from our commitment to lasting peace", adding "as we have seen from protests of last month those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution".

In response, a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated that the US embassy move had ruled Washington out of future mediation efforts.

"With this step, the US administration has cancelled its role in the peace process and has insulted the world, the Palestinian people and the Arab and the Islamic nation and it has created incitement and instability," Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

In a statement released on Monday, the Palestinian Authority described Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the US embassy move as "blatant violations of international law and disregard to the core values of justice and morality".

"Choosing a tragic day in Palestinian history shows great insensibility and disrespect for the core principles of the peace process," the statement said, referring to the Nakba, where Palestinians commemorate their ethnic cleansing by Zionist paramilitaries back in 1948.

Annual commemorations of the Nakba, or "catastrophe", when the state of Israel was established on May 15, 1948, are expected to take place across the occupied territories on Tuesday.

Riyad al-Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, said on Monday that the Palestinian leadership will go to the International Criminal Court and was preparing to file documents on crimes committed by Israel.

Speaking to a local radio station, al-Malki called for an urgent meeting of the Arab League, which he said would be followed by meetings at the UN Security Council.

Regional reaction

A statement by Egypt's Foreign Ministry on Monday condemned Israel's "use of force against peaceful marches" and warned of the "negative repercussion of such serious escalation in the Palestinian occupied territories."

In a statement published on Sunday, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the US of disregarding "rights and justice" by going through with the embassy move.

"History and humanity will never forgive the injustices done to our Palestinian brothers," Erdogan said.

The Arab League - a 22-member body of which Palestine is a member - will hold an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday to discuss the US' embassy move, the Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported.

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