Thursday 24 May 2018

Palestinians in mourning after bloodiest day since 2014 war

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah. Photo: Reuters
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah. Photo: Reuters

Dean Gray

A Palestinian was shot dead near the Gaza-Israel border yesterday after thousands of mourners turned out for the funerals of dozens of protesters killed by Israeli troops the day before, local health officials said.

The number of protesters that gathered at the frontier yesterday was significantly lower than on Monday. Many had gone to mourning tents rather than back to the scene of the bloodiest day for Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza war.

Sixty Palestinians were killed on Monday, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, including an eight-month-old baby who died from tear gas her family said she inhaled at a protest camp near the border.

More than 2,200 Palestinians were also injured by gunfire or tear gas, local medics said.

Thousands of Gaza residents attended the funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops, who in turn prepared to face the expected final day of the Palestinian protest campaign.

In Gaza City, hundreds marched in the funeral of eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour, whose body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag.

Details

An Israeli military spokesman disputed that Leila's death was caused by Israeli tear gas, saying "we have several accounts that question the validity of this statement". They did not give more details.

Dr Mahmoud Rantisi, a 60-year-old professor, waved his hand dismissively when asked about the death of his son Ahmed, who was shot in the chest on Monday as he tried to tear down the Israeli border fence.

"I am not sad, I'm very happy. We consider this event to be like a wedding for us. We even serve juice instead of coffee because it's like a wedding," he said. "We think our son didn't just die. He moved on to another life. It's mentioned in the Koran."

Many shops in East Jerusalem were shut throughout the day following a call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a general strike across the Palestinian territories.

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-defence to defend its borders and communities. The United States has backed that stance with both saying that Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the coastal enclave, instigated the violence.

Mourners marched through Gaza, waving Palestinian flags and calling for revenge. "With souls and blood we redeem you martyrs," they shouted.

May 15 is traditionally the day Palestinians mark the "Nakba", or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes as war broke out between the newly created Jewish state and its Arab neighbours in 1948.

The protests, dubbed 'The Great March of Return' began on March 30 and revived calls for refugees to have the right of return to their former lands which now lie inside Israel.

Israel rejects any right of return, fearing it would end its Jewish majority.

Palestinian medical officials claimed 105 Gazans have 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 figures. No Israeli casualties have been reported.

More than two million people are crammed into the narrow Gaza Strip, more than two-thirds of them refugees.

Citing security, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on the enclave, deepening economic hardship and raising humanitarian concerns.

On the Israeli side, sharpshooters took up positions to stop any attempted breach of the fence should demonstrations break out again. Tanks were also deployed.

A senior Israeli commander said that of the 60 people killed on Monday, 14 were carrying out attacks and 14 others were militants.

He also said Palestinian protesters were using hundreds of pipe bombs, grenades and fire-bombs. Militants had opened fire on Israeli troops and tried to set off bombs by the fence.

Many casualties were caused by Palestinians carrying out devices that went off prematurely, he said.

"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 he wasn't named according to army regulations.

"However, reality on the ground is such that unintended damage is caused."

In Geneva, the UN human rights office condemned what it called the "appalling deadly violence" by Israeli forces.

Force

UN 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 as a last resort, and was not justified by Palestinians approaching the Gaza fence.

Monday's protests were fuelled by the opening ceremony for the new US Embassy in Jerusalem following its relocation from Tel Aviv. The move fulfilled a pledge by US President Donald Trump, who, in December, recognised the city as the Israeli capital.

Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed, as its "eternal and indivisible capital".

Most countries say the status of Jerusalem - a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians - should be determined in a final peace settlement and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

Irish Independent

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