The US embassy in Israel will be officially moved to Jerusalem Monday, in a move praised by Israel but condemned by Palestinians.
According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, 16 Palestinian protesters were killed and dozens injured by Israeli troops firing at demonstrators along the Gaza border.
Despite the rising death-toll, President Donald Trump tweeted to say that today’s embassy opening would be a “great day for Israel!”
Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner — both White House advisers — will be present for a ceremony at the current US consulate in Jerusalem which from today will be the official US embassy in the country.
Trump, who is expected to address the event via videolink, broke with decades of US policy when he formally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December last year, fulfilling a campaign promise he made before his 2016 election.
Protests erupted globally following that decision, and over the last six weeks, 46 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured by Israeli troops firing on protests that are expected to culminate today.
Monday’s ceremony was brought forward to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel, or what the Palestinians commemorate as Nakba Day — Day of the Catastrophe. It could be many years until the US embassy relocates permanently to a new site, however.
Trump said last year that recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a “necessary condition to achieving peace.” Congress passed a law in 1995 that required the US to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv, but successive presidents before Trump deferred it on security grounds.
The decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital and relocate the embassy has been sharply criticised by all major US allies except Israel.
A gala event Sunday night ahead of the embassy ceremony was snubbed by most countries, with Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania the only EU countries to send representatives.
Israel has occupied East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians would regard as their capital in any future state, since 1967, building a dozen settlements home to 200,000 Jews that are considered illegal under international law.
A State Department statement ahead of the formal opening of the embassy said: “As the President stated on December 6, 2017, the historic opening of our embassy recognizes the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and the seat of its government.”
The statement added: “We are not taking a position on final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, nor on the resolution of contested borders.”
Delivering the opening prayer for the embassy ceremony will be Robert Jeffress. In a tweet, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney dubbed the pastor a “bigot”.
Jeffress appeared to respond to this charge with his own tweet early Monday, arguing that his beliefs were neither bigoted nor newsworthy.