Israeli forces kill Palestinian near Gaza border as Gaza buries dead
GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER – Palestinians buried the dead on Tuesday from the bloodiest day in Gaza in years, after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians near the Gaza-Israel border during demonstrations against the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
Israeli forces shot dead at least two more Palestinians on Tuesday, although protests were quieter than the previous day. It appeared that many protesters had gone to mourning tents rather than back to the scene of Monday’s bloodshed. Mourners marched through the strip, waving Palestinian flags and calling for revenge.
“With souls and blood we redeem you martyrs,” they shouted.
Hundreds marched in the funeral of eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour, whose body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag.
“Let her stay with me, it is too early for her to go,” her mother cried, pressing the baby’s body to her chest. The family said she died of inhaling tear gas.
At Gaza’s hospitals, families crowded the halls and spilled out of rooms as patients awaited treatment. Bassem Ibrahim, who said he was shot in the leg by Israeli troops, said at one stage he had feared losing the limb because of the delays.
“There are not many doctors. They are unable to see everyone, with all the injuries,” said Ibrahim, 23. “The number was unbelievable and they did not have time.”
On the Israeli side of the border, Israeli sharpshooters took up positions to stop any attempted breach of the fence should demonstrations break out again. Tanks were also deployed.
But if the violence tapered off, it still had a forceful impact internationally, with countries criticizing both the Israeli use of deadly force and the U.S. decision to open its new embassy at a ceremony attended by President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador, and Israel expelled the Turkish consul-general in Jerusalem. President Tayyip Erdogan exchanged heated words on Twitter with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinians summoned home their representative in Washington, citing the embassy decision.
Netanyahu blamed Hamas for provoking the violence. “They’re pushing civilians – women, children – into the line of fire with a view of getting casualties. We try to minimize casualties. They’re trying to incur casualties in order to put pressure on Israel, which is horrible,” Netanyahu told CBS News.
For the past six weeks, Palestinians have been holding Gaza border demonstrations for the return of Palestinian refugees to areas that are now part of Israel. Israel rejects any right of return, fearing it would deprive it of its Jewish majority.
Palestinian medical officials say 107 Gazans have now been killed since the start of the protests and nearly 11,000 people wounded, about 3,500 of them hit by live fire. Israeli officials dispute those numbers. No Israeli casualties have been reported.
Palestinian leaders have called Monday’s events a massacre, and the Israeli tactic of using live fire against the protesters has drawn worldwide concern and condemnation. The United Nations Security Council was due to meet to discuss the situation.
Israel has said it is acting in self-defense to defend its borders. Its main ally the United States has backed that stance, with both saying that Islamist group Hamas which rules Gaza instigated the violence, an allegation it denies.
May 15 is traditionally the day Palestinians mark the “Nakba”, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes in violence culminating in war between the newly created Jewish state and its Arab neighbors in 1948.
More than two million people are crammed into the narrow Gaza Strip. Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain a de facto blockade on the enclave. In the decade since Hamas seized control, it has fought three wars against Israel. The economy has collapsed under the blockade, with nearly half of Gazans now unemployed, the highest jobless rate on earth.
The Israeli military said at least 24 of those killed on Monday were “terrorists with documented terror background” and most of them were active operatives of Hamas.
A senior Israeli commander said that of the 60 Gazans killed on Monday, 14 were carrying out attacks and 14 others were militants. He said protesters were using pipe bombs, grenades and fire-bombs, had opened fire on Israeli troops and tried to set off bombs by the fence. He added that many casualties were caused by militants carrying devices that went off prematurely.
“We approve every round fired before it is fired. Every target is spotted in advance. We know where the bullet lands and where it is aimed,” said the commander, on condition of anonymity in accordance with Israeli regulations. “However reality on the ground is such that unintended damage is caused.”
In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office condemned what it called the “appalling deadly violence” by Israeli forces.
U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Israel had a right to defend its borders according to international law, but lethal force must only be used a last resort, and was not justified by Palestinians approaching the Gaza fence.
The U.N. rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, said Israel’s use of force may amount to a war crime.
Although the planned six-week demonstration was originally due to end on Tuesday, there was no sign of the tent encampments coming down, and organizers said the protest would continue. No new end date was announced, but some activists indicated that it may go on until early June.
That is when Palestinians mourn the “Naksa” – or Setback – of the 1967 Six Day War, which ended with Israel capturing and occupying Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
However, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts on Thursday, which requires devout Muslims to fast from dawn until sunset. Fewer protesters may turn out during the heat of the day in the exposed, shelterless border area.
Protests against the U.S. embassy move also took place in the West Bank, which is run by the Palestinian Authority, rivals to Hamas. The West Bank is occupied by Israel but not under blockade and has not seen the repeated wars and drastic economic collapse that Gaza has suffered over the past decade.
A 70-second siren was sounded in the West Bank in commemoration of the Nakba. Many shops in East Jerusalem were also shut throughout the day following a call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a general strike across the Palestinian Territories.
Israel has annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 war, and considers the unified city its capital. Palestinians seek a state with its capital there.
Most Gaza protesters stay around tent camps but groups have ventured closer to the border fence, rolling burning tyres and throwing stones. Some have flown kites carrying containers of petrol that spread fires on the Israeli side.
Monday’s protests were fueled by the opening ceremony for the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, which fulfilled a pledge by Trump, who in December recognized the city as Israel’s capital.
Most countries say the status of Jerusalem should be determined in a final peace settlement. Palestinians have said the United States can no longer serve as an honest broker in any peace process. Talks aimed a finding a two-state solution to the conflict have been frozen since 2014.
The United States on Monday blocked a Kuwait-drafted U.N. Security Council statement that would have expressed “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians” and called for an independent investigation, U.N. diplomats said.