NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The United States opened its embassy in Jerusalem Monday, moving it from Tel Aviv amid outcry from Palestinians and violent clashes along the Israel and Gaza border.
The historic move and inauguration ceremony comes five months after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
There was plenty of celebration, but also deadly violence.
According to Gaza health officials, so far at least 55 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,200 wounded, and there is serious concern that number could rise significantly.
For months, Palestinians have been protesting Israel and Egypt’s blockade of where they live. The protests now coming to a head are timed to coincide with the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
U.S. Ambassador David Friedman welcomed the crowd.
“Today we open the United States embassy in Jerusalem Israel,” he said to warm applause.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday was an “incredible, momentous day” and said it was “great honor” to lead the dedication ceremony on Trump’s behalf.
Mnuchin also said “it’s not coincidental” that the opening of the new embassy coincided with President Donald Trump’s announcement that he planned to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
Mnuchin has repeatedly said of Jerusalem: “This is the capital of Israel.”
President Trump’s daughter Ivanka made the official declaration.
“We welcome you officially and for the for the first time to the embassy of the United States, here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel,” she said.
Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, senior advisor to President Trump, are part of the American delegation there for the historic ceremony.
“While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American embassy, once in office, this president delivered,” Kushner said.
“Remember this moment, this is history,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “President Trump, by recognizing history, we have made history.”
“Big day for Israel. Congratulations!” tweeted President Trump.
Trump delivered a taped video message played for the audience,
“It’s a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people,” Trump said.
The timing of the embassy move is significant, falling on the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel being declared. It’s an annual celebration and this year, many Israelis say it has greater significance.
Most other countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv and many other international leaders say moving their embassies now could prejudice a final peace settlement.
The U.S. delegation was welcomed by Netanyahu and his wife Sunday night with a gala.
Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as their capital and say with the embassy move, the U.S. has unilaterally sided with Israel.
In a show of anger fueled by the embassy move, protesters set tires on fire, sending plumes of black smoke into the air, and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops across the border. The Israeli military said its troops had come under fire, and accused protesters of trying to break through the border fence. It said troops shot and killed three Palestinians who were trying to plant a bomb.
By midafternoon, at least 52 Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed while at least 772 were wounded, including 27 critically, Palestinian health officials said.
For months, Palestinians have been protesting Israel’s decade-old blockade of the Palestinian territory. The demonstrations today are timed to coincide with the embassy opening and the 70th anniversary of Israel as an independent state.
The U.S. decision to move the embassy, which was announced by Trump in December, infuriated Palestinians. Their president, Mahmoud Abbas, says it will hamper negotiations for peace in the region.
Nabeel Shaath, a long-time Palestinian peace negotiator, thinks Trump set the peace process back.
“From our point of view, what Mr. Trump has done is destroy the role of the United States as an honest broker,” Shaath said.
Palestinians in the U.S. say moving the embassy was a needless provocation.
“We Americans have proved ourselves to be a fair broker and arbitrator in this negotiation, this was supposed to happen at the end of the peace process alongside a Palestinian state,” Zead Ramadan said.
New Yorkers in Jerusalem seemed pleased with Trump’s decision.
“Only President Trump could pull it off in the the political climate we have in the states,” New Hempstead resident Yossi Gold said.
“Will there be repercussions? Probably,” said Terry Kalker of Kew Gardens Hills. “Does that mean it shouldn’t have been done? No.”
Michael Miller of the Jewish Community Relations Council says the embassy move is long overdue.
“Israel was the only country in the world where it’s designated capital was not recognized by the United States of America as being the capital of that country,” he said.
A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces questions the casualty numbers from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry, claiming a large number of those listed as injured had suffered only tear gas inhalation.