Israeli forces used live fire in a “measured” and “surgical” way, the country’s ambassador to the UK claimed as the British government called for restraint after violence which claimed dozens of lives.

Ambassador Mark Regev said Israel “did everything we could” to avoid the bloodshed at the border with Gaza, which saw soldiers open fire on protesters.

The diplomat insisted that the protests were organised by militant group Hamas with an aim to “breach the border, to get inside Israel and to kill Israeli citizens”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We use live fire only in a very measured way, in a very surgical way and only when there is no alternative.”

He added: “If we allow the Hamas terrorists to enter Israel, we will have dead Israelis. We must protect our border.”

Challenged on the conditions faced by Palestinians living in Gaza, he acknowledged they “live a very difficult life”, but “that’s because they live in a prison controlled by Hamas – a theocratic, authoritarian regime that instead of investing its energy and its resources into building a better life for the people of Gaza invests its efforts in a holy war – their words, not mine – against Israel”.

On Monday, Israeli forces killed 58 Palestinians, most by gunfire, and injured more than 2,700 during protests along the border – while a few miles away a ceremony was taking place in Jerusalem for the opening of the controversial new US embassy.

Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said: “We will not waver from our support for Israel’s right to defend its borders.

“But the large volume of live fire is extremely concerning. We continue to implore Israel to show greater restraint.”