Tension in Gaza as Palestinians prepare to bury 58 dead

Photo: EPA


Funerals are to be held in Gaza for 58 people killed on Monday when Israeli troops opened fire on Palestinian protesters, in the deadliest day of violence there since a war in 2014.

The burials coincide with the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba – the mass displacement of Palestinians after Israel’s creation.

Israel’s military said it was preparing for further confrontations on Tuesday.

But Palestinian groups indicated they intended to rein in the protests.

Monday’s violence came as the US inaugurated its first embassy in Jerusalem, a controversial move that broke with decades of US policy and incensed Palestinians.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and see the US move as backing Israeli control over the whole of the city – which Israel regards as its indivisible capital.

Palestinian officials said that, as well as those killed, about 2,700 people were injured in Monday’s violence – which they condemned as a massacre.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said his military was acting in self-defence against Gaza’s Islamist rulers, Hamas, who he said wanted to destroy Israel.

What happened at the Gaza border?

Palestinians were demonstrating on Monday as they have been for seven weeks, as part of a protest orchestrated in part by Hamas and branded the “Great March of Return”.

But Monday’s protests – and those planned for Tuesday – mark the anniversary of Israel’s creation in 1948 and commemorate the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who subsequently fled their homes or were displaced in the war that followed.

Israel said some 40,000 Palestinians had taken part in “violent riots” at 13 locations along Israel’s security fence along Gaza’s eastern border.

Palestinians hurled stones and incendiary devices and approached the border fence. Israeli snipers fired live ammunition at protesters and used tear gas dispersed from drones.

  • What is Hamas?

Mr Netanyahu defended the military action. “Every country has an obligation to defend its borders,” he said.

“The Hamas terrorist organisation declares its intention to destroy Israel and sends thousands to breach the border fence in order to achieve this goal. We will continue to act with determination to protect our sovereignty and our citizens.”

An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman said soldiers had fired on people carrying out “terrorist activity and not on demonstrators, who were dispersed by usual means such as tear gas and according to the rules of engagement”.

Announcing three days of mourning, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said: “Today once again, the massacres against our people continue.”

How did the world react?

Israel’s actions were condemned or criticised by the UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Lebanon and other nations. Israel was defended by its key ally, the US. President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chose not to directly address the deadly violence in Gaza.

  • White House spokesman Raj Shah said: “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas… Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response”
  • Kuwait drafted a UN Security Council statement calling for an independent inquiry into the violence – and expressing “outrage and sorrow” – but this was blocked by the US
  • The UK said “the large volume of live fire is extremely concerning” but called on protesters to act peacefully
  • Germany said Israel had the right to defend itself but should do so proportionately
  • France’s President Emmanuel Macron condemned violence by the Israeli military
  • Turkey said the US shared responsibility with Israel for a “vile massacre” and that it was recalling its ambassadors from both countries
  • One of the strongest statements came from UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who condemned the “shocking killing of dozens, injury of hundreds by Israeli live fire”
  • South Africa also recalled its ambassador to Israel, condemning “the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack”

The violence and the embassy opening

The violence in Gaza and the US embassy opening were not explicitly linked, both were timed to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary on Monday.

Hamas did not initiate the weekly protests that have been taking place since March, but the group has since become the driving force. At the end of March, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said the demonstrations were aimed at removing what he called the “transient border” with Israel.

Hamas has called for Israel’s destruction and is in a permanent state of conflict with the Jewish state.

Why is the embassy move so controversial?

The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is not recognised internationally and, according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war. It effectively annexed the sector, though this was not recognised by any countries until Mr Trump’s declaration in December 2017.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

The Palestinian president called the new embassy “a US settlement in East Jerusalem”. Various countries once had embassies based in Jerusalem but many moved after Israel passed a law in 1980 formally making Jerusalem its capital.

Source: www.bbc.com

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