Monday 23 September 2019

Israel faces diplomatic fallout after dozens killed in Gaza

Leading European countries and the UN human rights office called for an investigation of the bloodshed.

Israeli police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest outside the US embassy in Jerusalem (Mahmoud Illean/AP)
Israeli police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest outside the US embassy in Jerusalem (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

By Fares Akram and Karin Laub, Associated Press

Israel faced a growing backlash and new charges of using excessive force on Tuesday, a day after Israeli troops firing from across a border fence killed 59 Palestinians and wounded more than 2,700 at a mass protest in Gaza.

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador, while Ireland and Belgium summoned Israeli envoys.

Leading European countries and the UN human rights office called for an investigation of the bloodshed.

Israel says it has the right to defend its border against a possible mass breach and accuses Gaza’s Hamas rulers of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.

A military spokesman said on Tuesday that 14 of those killed a day earlier were involved in attacks.

Monday marked the deadliest day in Gaza since a 2014 cross-border war with Israel, and was part of a high-stakes campaign by the Islamic militant Hamas to break a decade-long border blockade.

The Gaza Health Ministry, which provided the toll from Monday’s violence, said a nine-month-old girl died from tear gas exposure, but medical officials later cast doubt on that claim, saying the infant had a pre-existing medical condition.

It remained unclear on Tuesday where and how the child died.

In jarring contrast to the Gaza bloodshed, the US held a festive inauguration ceremony for a new US Embassy in contested Jerusalem at the same time on Monday, just several dozen miles away.

US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin attend the opening ceremony of the new US embassy in Jerusalem (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

The juxtaposition of violence on the Gaza border and festivities attended by a Trump administration delegation – captured on split screens in TV broadcasts around the world – briefly drew attention to the plight of Gaza and its two million people.

The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv, condemned by Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israel, further dimmed prospects of what President Donald Trump had once touted as plans to negotiate the “deal of the century”.

The Palestinians seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as a capital.

The high casualty toll revived international criticism of Israel’s open-fire policies.

Rights groups have said the use of potentially lethal force against protesters who pose no immediate threat to soldiers’ lives is unlawful.

The military has said presumably less lethal rubber-coated steel pellets are not effective in keeping demonstrators from the fence.

Germany, Belgium and Ireland called for an investigation of the violence.

In Brussels, Prime Minister Charles Michel called the Israeli actions “unacceptable violence” and said there was a “clear lack of proportionality”.

Medics treat Palestinian children suffering from teargas inhalation during a protest near Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip (Dusan Vranic/AP)

Mr Michel said the violence and killings would be moved onto the calendar of the European Union summit in Sofia on Wednesday and Thursday.

German spokesman Steffen Seibert said the violence “concerns us greatly”, but also accused Hamas of cynically escalating the unrest.

Ireland’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to express “shock and dismay”.

Turkey asked Israel’s ambassador to leave temporarily and the country lowered flags to half-mast to mark three days of mourning.

China called on Israel to exercise restraint. On Monday, South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel until further notice.

The UN human rights office said Israel has repeatedly violated international norms by using deadly live fire to repel protesters from its border with Gaza, suggesting its forces should instead arrest those who reach the fence.

The UN Security Council planned to meet on Tuesday to discuss the violence, though it was not clear what might come out of the session.

PA Media

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