Thousands rally in Istanbul in solidarity with Palestinians

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Istanbul, Turkey – Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Turkey’s largest city to protest against the US’ decision to officially relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

At least 6,000 people converged on Monday in central Istanbul to denounce the inauguration ceremony and the killings of at least 55 Palestinians by Israeli forces in Gaza – in what marked the bloodiest day in the besieged coastal enclave since the 2014 war.

The Israeli military fired live ammunition, tear gas and firebombs at unarmed protesters who had gathered in Gaza along several points near the fence with Israel, wounding more than 2,700 people.

UN rights experts denounced Israel for using a “disproportionate use of force”, while Amnesty International called it a “horror” that violated international law.

As news of the deaths in Gaza spread in Istanbul, huge crowds descended on the busy Istiklal street waving Palestinian and Turkish flags.

“Down with America, down with Israel. Israel is a terrorist state,” said Bulent Yildirim, one of the protest organisers and president of IHH, a Turkish NGO.

“Palestine will be free and this day will signal the end of Israel and the Nakba,” in reference to the establishment of the state of Israel on May 15, 1948 in a violent campaign that led to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes.

Some of the protesters burned the US flag and urged Turkey to close Israeli missions in the country, shouting: “Shut down the Zionist embassy.”

Later on Monday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the Turkish government had recalled envoys in Tel Aviv and Washington for consultations.

“We will sacrifice our blood and our lives for Palestine,” Bahadir Kurtulmas, a 20-year-old university student, told Al Jazeera.

“The Turkish and Muslim peoples will never abandon Palestine; we will continue to fight against US and Israeli imperialism.”

The large crowd waved Palestinian and Turkish flags [Faisal Edroos/Al Jazeera]

‘Ignited a fire’

Turkish officials have repeatedly condemned US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy, a key promise during his election campaign, warning it risked inflaming tensions.

“The US administration moving its embassy to Jerusalem destroyed the chances for peace and ignited a fire that will cause more human losses and injuries as well as destruction and catastrophe in the region,” Bozdag wrote on Twitter.

“From now, nothing will be the same in the causes of Palestine and Jerusalem.”

Monday’s protest in Gaza has been part of a series of demonstrations dubbed the Great March of Return and comes ahead of Tuesday’s annual commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe”.

Since the protests began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 104 Palestinians in the coastal besieged enclave and wounded about 12,000.

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