A US delegation has flown to Israel amid rising tensions ahead of planned protests against the controversial move of the American embassy to Jerusalem and rallies calling for the Palestinians’ right of return to the homes from which they were expelled from in 1948.
Several US officials, joined by President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband and senior adviser Jared Kushner, will attend the opening on Monday, which coincides with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding.
Trump announced last December that Washington formally recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move its embassy there from Tel Aviv, breaking with decades of US policy.
His decision, long-sought by Israel, sparked anger and protests throughout the occupied Palestinian territories and drew condemnation from world leaders.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s “bold decision” as the Israeli foreign ministry held a festive ceremony to welcome the US delegation, which also included 12 Congress members.
The event, however, was shunned by most European Union countries.
Earlier, hundreds of Jewish settlers raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, raising the Israeli flag and praying there, on what Israelis call Jerusalem Day, which marks the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
The ancient marble-and-stone compound, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, houses Al-Aqsa Mosque – Islam’s third-holiest site – and the 7th-century Dome of the Rock. Jews call it Temple Mount.
Visits by Jewish groups, including politicians, have triggered violence over the years, with Palestinians fearing that Israeli hardliners are trying to take control of the site.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its “united” capital, and its annexation of East Jerusalem effectively put the entire city under de-facto Israeli control.
Palestinian leaders, however, see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Thousands of Palestinians on Monday are expected to protest against the relocation from across the occupied Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip as part of the Great March of Return.
The Great March of Return includes rallies that are part of a weeks-long protest that will culminate on May 15 to mark what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba or “Catastrophe” – a reference to Israel’s establishment in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed from Palestine.
Since the protests began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed at least 49 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave.
More than 8,500 Palestinians have also been wounded.