Ramadan in Gaza: Muslim Holy Month Comes as Israel Kills More Palestinian Protesters

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan was to arrive in Gaza just as the Palestinian enclave was rocked by ongoing protests to which Israeli security forces have responded with deadly force, prompting an international outcry over the bloodshed.

Ramadan's date is dictated by the lunar calendar and was initially scheduled to begin Tuesday evening, meaning it would coincide with the annual remembrance of the Nakba, the Arabic-language term for "catastrophe" that refers to the mass displacement of Palestinians in the wake of the 1948 founding of Israel and the war with its neighboring Arab states that immediately ensued. The beginning of the holy month also arrived while the Gaza Ministry of Health reported up to 60 Palestinians killed and 2,770 more injured the day before by Israeli forces responding to demonstrations against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, a holy city claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Instead of celebrating Ramadan, many Palestinians were burying their dead in the wake of the bloodiest day in Gaza since a 2014 war between Israel and Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the self-ruling territory that borders both Egypt and Israel, as the Associated Press reported. Others continued to protest armed with rocks and burning tires as Israel reportedly killed at least two more demonstrators during the "March for Return" Tuesday.

RTS1RK3H Palestinian demonstrators run during a protest marking the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip, May 15, 2018. While protests appeared to be lighter on Tuesday, during which Ramadan also began, casualties reportedly continued to rise as Israel responded with deadly force. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Israel has defended its actions, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying it was necessary for every country to protect its borders and blaming Hamas for inciting the unrest. The White House closely aligned itself with the Israeli position, saying Monday that "Hamas is responsible" for the mounting Palestinian death toll and dismissed reports suggesting otherwise as a "propaganda attempt."

Several other nations disagreed, however. Turkey expelled its Israeli ambassador and South Africa withdrew its own envoy to Israel. Ireland and Belgium both summoned their Israeli ambassadors over the deadly response to the demonstrations and the U. N. Security Council convened an emergency session. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley echoed Netanyahu, saying Israel was trying to defend its borders. She reportedly walked out as the Palestinian envoy started to speak.

Related: White House says 'Hamas is responsible' for Israel killing Palestinians in Gaza

Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, upending decades of status quo and breaking with Washington's traditional policy, was condemned in a December U.N. General Assembly resolution, which passed 128-9. Saudi Arabia, a leading Middle East ally that broke rank with much of the international community to join Israel in welcoming Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from landmark nuclear accord with Iran last week, also "rejected" the move, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

As the violence raged on, Hamas has escalated its campaign against Israel, calling on the Palestinian Authority that controls the West Bank to cancel the 1990s Oslo agreements and for Palestinians to stage a third intifada or "uprising." Hamas, a close ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, was formed in the 1980s shortly after the outbreak of the First Intifada and was heavily involved in the Second Intifada of the early 2000s. The group has ties to both Iran and Saudi Arabia, but is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union. It took control of Gaza in a 2007 conflict that followed controversial elections in 2006, dividing it from the Palestinian Authority, which is run by the left-wing Fatah party.

RTS1REHI A chart shows the number of Palestinians and Israelis injured or killed since 2012 as of May 8, 2018. United Nations/Reuters

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is celebrated across the world by Muslims, who number about 1.6 billion or about a quarter of the world's population. The holiday begins on Tuesday in the U.S., but Saudi Arabia, Oman and some other Muslim nations have recently said its observance could begin as late as Thursday because the necessary phase of the moon was not spotted. Ramadan lasts for about 30 days and will end between June 14 and June 16, depending on the lunar cycle.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Cavusoglu said Tuesday that Turkey would seek to feed 100,000 Palestinians and provide $1 million dollars in assistance throughout the month of Ramadan.

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