The White House has refused to condemn Israel for shooting dead at least 55 Palestinian protesters or even call for restraint, instead seeking to put the blame on Hamas and describing the protests as a “gruesome propaganda attempt”.
As condemnation poured in from around the world over the latest violence carried out by Israeli forces on the border with Gaza, White House spokesman Raj Shah said the administration believed Israel had the right to defend itself.
“We’re aware of the reports of continued violence in Gaza today,” said Mr Shah, the deputy press secretary. “Responsibility with these tragic deaths rests solely with Hamas.”
Asked if Israel should show restraint, he added: “Hamas should bear responsibility for the entire situation right now….Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response.”
Mr Shah’s comment came as split-screen television images showed the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem going ahead as hundreds of Palestinian protesters demonstrated close to the Gaza border. Hundreds of them were hit by gunfire. More than 2,000 people were said to be injured.
Many countries, among them Britain and France, urged Israel to show restraint. Turkey called the shootings “a massacre”.
But Mr Shah refused to voice even the mildest criticism of Israel, instead repeatedly blaming Hamas, which has won elections to run Gaza since 2007. While reports suggest some of the protesters at previous demonstrations were Hamas members or supporters, many were not.
“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Hamas is the one that, frankly, bear responsibility for the entire situation right now,” Mr Shah said. He also claimed neither the opening of the new embassy, or the latest violence, would derail the Trump administration’s efforts to secure a broader peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The peace plan will be brought forward at the appropriate time when it can be evaluated on its merits,” he said.
Mr Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, fulfilled a campaign promise, despite opposition European and Middle East leaders who warned that doing so could undermine peace talks in the region.
Reuters said Monday’s deaths, marked the bloodiest single day for Palestinians since the Gaza conflict in 2014. Palestinian Health Ministry officials said 55 protesters were killed and 2,700 injured either by live gunfire, tear gas or other means.
At the ceremony for the new embassy, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Mr Trump for “having the courage to keep your promises”.
“What a glorious day for Israel,” he said. “We are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay.”
Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that is not recognised internationally, as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.
Most countries say the status of Jerusalem – a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians – should be determined in a final peace settlement and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.