JERUSALEM, Israel – While Israelis prepare to celebrate Monday's opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, thousands of Arab protesters rioted at Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip.
By mid-afternoon, Israeli media quoting Palestinian sources reported that 52 rioters had been killed and up to 1,000 injured, many from tear gas inhalation. An estimated 50,000 are taking part in Monday's protests – about half of the 100,000 Hamas promised, among them known terrorists.
Some rioters set tires on fire and threw rocks at IDF soldiers protecting the border, while others attempted to plant bombs near the security fence. There are reports of some opening fire at soldiers.
Hamas vowed that today's culmination of six weeks of the "March of Return" would see rioters destroy the security barrier and infiltrate Israel.
In a recent Hebrew-language video, Hamas warned Israelis in Gaza-perimeter communities to evacuate their homes. "The Palestinians are swarming unrestrained and we recommend you leave without hesitation…Those who stay will bear the full consequences…We'll break through the border and reach all the way to your communities and we will not die alone."
The rioters are marking the Nakba, a Palestinian national holiday that calls the establishment of Israel a "catastrophe." The holiday usually takes place the day after Israel's Independence Day, but Hamas moved it up a day to coincide with the US Embassy move to Jerusalem.
Despite repeated warnings, Hamas transported thousands of residents for the culmination of six weeks of "peaceful protests" for its "March of Return."
IDF aircraft dropped thousands more leaflets again on Monday warning Gazans "not to serve as a tool for Hamas."
One of the IDF's warning fliers, Photo, IDF Spokesman's Office
"You are taking part in violent riots that jeopardize your lives," one flier warned. Hamas is using you as "its puppet."
"Stay away from the security fence, from terror instigators and the violent rioters!" the IDF warned.
Earlier this week, the IDF closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing indefinitely to repair damages inflicted by the rioters, depriving Gaza residents of the normal supply goods transferred through the crossing.
"Hamas is killing the Gaza Strip," Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said. "A tunnel was discovered at the Kerem Shalom border crossing in January and over the past two weeks, two large fires have been ignited on the Palestinian side of the crossing, forcing us to close it until further notice."
The IDF also destroyed another Hamas attack tunnel, this one near the Erez Crossing.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said they'd been following the tunnel's progress for several weeks.
"It was approximately 1 kilometer [more than 600 feet] long," Conricus said. "It was dug over several months, and we have been following it for a number of weeks."
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