Funerals are being held in Gaza for 58 people killed on Monday when Israeli troops opened fire during Palestinian protests, in the deadliest day of violence there since a war in 2014.
The burials coincide with the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba – a mass displacement of Palestinians after Israel’s creation.
Israel’s military said it was preparing for further confrontations on Tuesday.
But Palestinian groups indicated they intended to rein in the protests.
Monday’s violence came as the US inaugurated its first embassy in Jerusalem, a controversial move that broke with decades of US policy and incensed Palestinians.
Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state and see the US move as backing Israeli control over the whole of the city – which Israel regards as its indivisible capital.
Palestinian officials said that, as well as those killed, about 2,700 people had been injured in Monday’s violence – which they condemned as a massacre.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his military was acting in self-defence against Gaza’s Islamist rulers, Hamas, who seek to destroy Israel. Israel’s military said it had only fired at “targets of terrorist activity”.
The UN human rights office was heavily critical of Israel’s use of force.
“The mere fact of approaching a fence is not a lethal, life-threatening act, so that does not warrant being shot,” spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.
“How much threat can a double amputee be making from the other side of a large fortified fence?” he added.
Shock in Gaza as the dead are buried
By Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East Editor, in Gaza City
At Shifa, Gaza’s main hospital, men were queuing on Tuesday to give blood. They wanted to help the many wounded in Monday’s violence.
Inside the hospital, there were many with gunshot wounds. Across Gaza, families were burying their dead. By midday there were no reports of new demonstrations.
There was shock in Gaza at the scale of the killing. The right of return to lands they lost is a highly emotional issue for Palestinians but people here questioned whether it was worth staging such a protest after the terrible death toll.
In fact, this was an incident waiting to happen. Tension has been rising for weeks in Gaza. People here have been impoverished by a goods blockade imposed by Israel and by Egypt, which shuns Hamas because of its links with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The only way of stopping more violence and death is to work seriously to settle the conflict. But that is not happening.
What happened at the Gaza border?
Palestinians were demonstrating on Monday as they have been for seven weeks, as part of a protest orchestrated in part by Hamas and branded the “Great March of Return”.
But Monday’s protests – and those planned for Tuesday – mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948 and commemorate the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who subsequently fled their homes or were displaced in the war that followed.
Israel said some 40,000 Palestinians had taken part in “violent riots” at 13 locations along Israel’s security fence along Gaza’s eastern border.
Palestinians hurled stones and incendiary devices and approached the border fence. Israeli snipers fired live ammunition at protesters and used tear gas dispersed from drones.
Mr Netanyahu sought to justify the military action. “Every country has an obligation to defend its borders,” he said.
“The Hamas terrorist organisation declares its intention to destroy Israel and sends thousands to breach the border fence in order to achieve this goal,” he said. “We will continue to act with determination to protect our sovereignty and our citizens.”
Hamas did not initiate the weekly protests that have been taking place for the past seven weeks but the group has since become the driving force. At the end of March, the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said the demonstrations were aimed at removing the “transient border” with Israel.
Hamas has called for Israel’s destruction and is in a permanent state of conflict with the Jewish state.
An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman said soldiers had fired on people carrying out “terrorist activity and not on demonstrators, who were dispersed by usual means such as tear gas and according to the rules of engagement”.
Announcing three days of mourning, West Bank-based Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said: “Today once again, the massacres against our people continue.”
How did the world react?
Israel’s actions were condemned or criticised by the UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Lebanon and other nations. Israel was defended by its key ally, the US. President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chose not to directly address the deadly violence in Gaza.
- White House spokesman Raj Shah said: “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas… Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response”
- Kuwait drafted a UN Security Council statement calling for an independent inquiry into the violence – and expressing “outrage and sorrow” – but this was blocked by the US
- The UK said “the large volume of live fire is extremely concerning” but called on protesters to act peacefully
- Germany said Israel had the right to defend itself but should do so proportionately
- France’s President Emmanuel Macron condemned violence by the Israeli military
- Russia said it was watching closely, adding that the Palestinian death toll could not “but provoke the deepest concern”
- Turkey said the US shared responsibility with Israel for a “vile massacre” and that it was recalling its ambassadors from both countries
- South Africa also recalled its ambassador to Israel, condemning “the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack”
Why is the embassy so controversial?
The violence in Gaza and the US embassy opening were not explicitly linked but both were timed to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary on Monday.
Commentators drew attention to the stark contrast between the images from Jerusalem – of a high-level US delegation, alongside Mr Netanyahu and his wife, celebrating the new US embassy opening – and the violent images emerging from Gaza.
The relocation breaks with decades of US policy and has incensed Palestinians and other nations, who say it violates international law.
Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and see the US move as backing Israeli control over the whole of the city.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, called the new embassy “a US settlement in East Jerusalem”.
What is the Gaza Strip?
The Gaza Strip is a narrow piece of land along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt, about 40km (25 miles) long and 10km wide. It is home to about 1.8 million Palestinians, making it the third most densely population place in the world.
The shape of the strip was defined by ceasefire lines with Egypt at the end of the 1948-9 Arab-Israeli war.
Egypt administered Gaza for the next 19 years but Israel occupied it in the 1967 Arab-Israel war. It withdrew its forces and settlers in 2005 but the UN still considers the territory occupied because Israel retains control over the territory’s air space, coastal waters and shared border.
Politically, Gaza is controlled by Hamas, which Israel and other powers regard as a terrorist group. Since 2007, Israel and Egypt have enforced a sea and air blockade, controlling the flow of commercial goods and people in and out of the strip. They say it is for their own security.
The Gaza Strip is impoverished and the UN has warned it is on the verge of total collapse.
In 2014, a 50-day war between Israel and militants in Gaza killed 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians died.
Tension in Gaza as Palestinians begin to bury 58 dead}