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Clashes continue in Gaza; Israel finds itself on defensive over deaths

Alexandra Zavis, Noga Tarnopolsky and Laura King, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Deadly new clashes erupted Tuesday in the Gaza Strip as thousands of Palestinians staged angry funeral processions for dozens of demonstrators killed a day earlier by Israeli troops. Israel, meanwhile, weathered growing international criticism over the violence.

The latest confrontations came as Palestinians commemorated their mass displacement 70 years ago following the creation of Israel. At least two more fatalities near Gaza's frontier with Israel were reported by Palestinian officials, pushing the death toll for Monday and Tuesday above 60. Israel's military also said scattered clashes broke out in the West Bank.

Monday's outbreak of lethal violence in Gaza coincided with Israeli rejoicing over the Trump administration's symbolic inauguration of a new U.S. Embassy in the contested city of Jerusalem. The embassy festivities added fuel to the 7-week-old Gaza demonstrations denouncing a more than decadelong blockade of the crowded enclave and demanding a Palestinian return to ancestral homes in Israel.

Israel insisted anew that it used live fire in response to a deadly threat posed by Palestinians seeking to breach the border fence between Israel and Gaza. It said at least 24 of those killed Monday were militants.

At the United Nations on Tuesday, Trump's ambassador to the world body, Nikki Haley, staunchly defended Israel, telling the Security Council that no member "would act with more restraint than Israel has" in the ongoing Gaza border confrontation.

In the West Bank on Tuesday, the Israeli military said 1,300 Palestinians participated in what it described as "violent riots" at 18 locations and said protesters burned tires and hurled rocks and firebombs at security forces. The military said in the wake of Monday's border confrontation, its aircraft hit more than a dozen sites in Gaza that it described as "terror targets."

As is traditional on May 15, Palestinians on Tuesday observed what they call the "nakba" (catastrophe) of 70 years ago, when hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes in what is now Israel. Shops and businesses were shuttered in Gaza City and in Ramallah, the West Bank's administrative capital.

In Ramallah, piercing sirens wailed for a minute and 10 seconds -- a second for each year -- to commemorate the anniversary, bringing traffic in some areas to a standstill.

Many Palestinian motorists clambered from their pulled-over cars to stand at attention -- a mirror of the momentary standstill that comes once a year on the Israeli side as the Holocaust is commemorated. Shops and businesses in Ramallah were closed for a general strike, and much of the normally bustling town was silent and deserted.

The Trump administration and Israel have placed the blame for Monday's violence -- the worst since a 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza -- squarely on Hamas, the militant group that controls the seaside enclave.

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