Wednesday 19 September, 2018

Israel prepares for opening of US Embassy in Jerusalem

A road sign leading to the U.S. Embassy is seen ahead the official opening in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 13, 2018. Monday's opening of the U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem, cheered by Israelis as a historic validation, is seen by Palestinians as an in-your-face affirmation of pro-Israel bias by President Donald Trump and a new blow to frail statehood dreams. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

A road sign leading to the U.S. Embassy is seen ahead the official opening in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 13, 2018. Monday's opening of the U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem, cheered by Israelis as a historic validation, is seen by Palestinians as an in-your-face affirmation of pro-Israel bias by President Donald Trump and a new blow to frail statehood dreams. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel is preparing a series of festivities Sunday to celebrate the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has ignited Palestinian protests and raised fears of a further outbreak of violence.

As Israel marks Jerusalem Day, the 51st anniversary of what it refers to as the city's "unification" following the 1967 war, it will also be hosting a gala reception for Monday's embassy dedication that will include members of a delegation led by President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka, his senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin.

Dozens of foreign diplomats are expected, though many ambassadors of European nations who oppose the move will skip it. Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania have reportedly blocked a joint EU statement on the issue.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and view the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city as a blatantly one-sided move that invalidates the U.S. as a Mideast peace broker.

Trump's decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital ignited months of protests in the Palestinian territories. The weekly protests along the Israel-Gaza border are expected to culminate Monday in parallel to the celebrations in Jerusalem.

Since Mar. 30, 42 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the weekly protests aimed primarily against the decade-long blockade of Gaza. More than 1,800 have been wounded.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have led the protests, which are aimed to peak this week with the 70th anniversary of what the Palestinians call the "nakba," or catastrophe, referring to their mass uprooting during the Mideast war over Israel's 1948 creation. Organizers have indicated they may try to breach the border with Israel.

Israel says it has a right to defend its border and has accused Hamas of using the protests as a cover for attacking it. On Saturday, it destroyed the sixth Hamas attack tunnel it has uncovered in as many months. Rights groups say the use of potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters is unlawful.

A high-ranking delegation of Gaza's Hamas rulers headed to Egypt on Sunday, amid diplomatic efforts aimed at containing the mass rally.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile said Israel would be celebrating Trump's decision.

"President Trump promised to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and he did so. He promised to move the American Embassy to Israel and he is doing so. Of course we will all celebrate this day, a real celebration, tomorrow," he said at a weekly Cabinet meeting.

Most countries have traditionally kept their embassies in coastal Tel Aviv rather than the contested holy site of Jerusalem. But after Trump's move both Guatemala and Paraguay announced that they planned to follow suit.