Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said his military was acting in self defence during violence on the Gaza border that left dozens of Palestinians dead.
Some 55 were killed and 2,700 wounded by Israeli troops, Palestinian officials said, on the deadliest day of violence since the 2014 Gaza war.
The Palestinian Authority’s leader condemned a “massacre”. The UN spoke of “outrageous human rights violations”.
The violence came as the US opened a controversial embassy in Jerusalem.
The move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv has incensed Palestinians, who claim eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
They see the US move as backing Israeli control over the whole of the city, which Israel regards as its indivisible capital.
Palestinians were demonstrating on Monday as they have been for six weeks as part of a protest, orchestrated by Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas, called the “Great March of Return”.
However, Monday’s protests – and more planned for Tuesday – are the culmination, as they mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948 and what Palestinian’s term the Nakba or Catastrophe, referring to the hundreds of thousands of their people who subsequently fled their homes or were displaced in the war that followed.
Monday also coincided with the dedication ceremony for the US embassy.
Israel said some 40,000 Palestinians had taken part in “violent riots” at 13 locations along the Gaza Strip security fence.
Palestinians hurled stones and incendiary devices, while the Israeli military used tear gas and live fire from snipers.
Mr Netanyahu defended his military, saying: “Every country has an obligation to defend its borders.
“The Hamas terrorist organisation declares its intention to destroy Israel and sends thousands to breach the border fence in order to achieve this goal. We will continue to act with determination to protect our sovereignty and our citizens.”
An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman said soldiers fired on those engaged in “terrorist activity and not on demonstrators, who were dispersed by usual means such as tear gas and according to the rules of engagement”.
Announcing three days of mourning, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said: “Today once again, the massacres against our people continue.”
He also condemned the US embassy move, saying: “We hear that they opened an embassy today. It is a settlement, not an embassy. A US settlement in East Jerusalem.”
The violence in Gaza drew conflicting reactions in the international community:
- White House spokesman Raj Shah said: “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas… Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response”
- EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the UK called for restraint
- Germany said Israel had the right to defend itself but should do so proportionately. France condemned the violence
- Turkey said the US shared responsibility with Israel for a “vile massacre” and that it was recalling its ambassadors from both the US and Israel
- One of the strongest statements came from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who condemned the “shocking killing of dozens, injury of hundreds by Israeli live fire”
- South Africa also recalled its ambassador to Israel, condemning “the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack”
Gaza violence: Israel defends actions as 55 Palestinians killed}