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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Palestinians observed a general strike Tuesday to mourn dozens killed by Israeli army fire in the single deadliest day in Gaza since a 2014 war, as organizers said the day would be set aside for funerals and that turnout for any new protests on the border with Israel would likely be low.
The Islamic militant Hamas, which rules the territory, had initially said mass border protests would continue Tuesday. The day marks the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call their “nakba,” or catastrophe – the uprooting of hundreds of thousands in the Mideast war over Israel’s 1948 creation.
On Monday, the world witnessed scenes of jarring contrast. Israeli forces killed 58 Palestinians, most by gunfire, and injured more than 2,700 during mass protests along the Gaza border, while just a few miles away Israel and the U.S. held a festive inauguration ceremony for the new American Embassy in contested Jerusalem.
The high casualty toll in Gaza revived international criticism of Israel’s use of lethal force against unarmed protesters, while the opening of the embassy, condemned by Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israel, further dimmed prospects of what President Donald Trump had once touted as plans to negotiate the Mideast “deal of the century.”
The U.N. Security Council planned to meet Tuesday to discuss the violence, though it was not clear what might come out of the session. Two U.N. diplomats said members couldn’t reach unanimous agreement on issuing a proposed statement, circulated by Kuwait, that would have expressed “outrage and sorrow” over the killings and sought an independent investigation. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were supposed to be private.
The Gaza Health Ministry said 58 Palestinians were killed Monday, including 57 by Israeli fire and a baby who died from tear gas inhalation. In addition, more than 2,700 were hurt, among them 1,360 by gunshots, the ministry said. Of the wounded, 130 were in serious or critical condition, it said.
Israel has defended its actions, saying troops were defending its border. It also accused Hamas militants of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.
The Israeli military said Tuesday that its aircraft had struck 11 “terror targets” in a Hamas military compound a day earlier, and that tanks targeted two Hamas posts. It said protesters used 10 explosive devices and firebombs against troops and that shots were fired at soldiers positioned along the border.
Khaled Batsh, the head of the grass-roots organizing committee of the protests, said Tuesday would be set aside for funerals and a general strike, suggesting that there were no plans for renewed mass protests that day. A senior Hamas official said that while protests would continue, turnout would likely be low as Gaza residents were busy with funerals. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the group’s deliberations with the media.
In recent days, there have been negotiations between Egypt and Hamas leaders summoned to Cairo, presumably on a possible easing of Gaza’s decade-long border blockade in exchange for ending the protests.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade in 2007, after Hamas seized the territory from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Since late March, Hamas has led weekly border protests aimed at breaking the blockade.
Monday’s protest also targeted the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, viewed as a major provocation by the Palestinians and the Arab world.