Amid Gaza unrest, Jeremy Corbyn calls for UK to review arms sales to Israel

Placing blame solely on Israel, Labour leader slams ‘illegal and inhumane’ actions by IDF troops attempting to quell violence on border

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walks along Westminster Bridge by the Houses of Parliament in central London on March 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas)
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn walks along Westminster Bridge by the Houses of Parliament in central London on March 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called Saturday for Britain to review its arms sales to Israel amid a series of escalating events along the Gaza border in which some 27 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during violent protests and attempts to breach the fence.

In a statement read out at a demonstration supporting the Palestinians in the coastal enclave, Corbyn slammed the “silence from the international powers” and said the UK must investigate the latest “illegal and inhumane” incidents carried out by the Israel Defense Forces there.

“The UK government must support the UN Secretary-General’s call for an independent international inquiry into the killing of protesters in Gaza and review the sale of arms that could be used in violation of international law,” Corbyn said in his statement, which he also posted to Facebook.

The Labour head made no mention of the Hamas terror organization, which rules Gaza and which has claimed several of those killed by Israel as its members. Placing the responsibility and blame solely on Israel, he referred to the tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered along the Gaza border on Friday, some of whom burned tires, threw firebombs and rocks at Israeli soldiers, and tried to breach the border fence, as “peaceful.”

“The killing and wounding of yet more unarmed Palestinian protesters yesterday by Israeli forces in Gaza is an outrage,” he wrote. “Firing live ammunition into crowds of unarmed civilians is illegal and inhumane and cannot be tolerated.”

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said on Friday that Hamas organizers were trying to use protesters as a diversion to “open up the fence and then to insert terrorists into Israel.” Conricus said snipers were used “sparingly” and only against those that posed a “significant threat.”

Corbyn insisted that the Palestinians had the right to protest against their denial of “basic human and political rights.”

Protesters shout slogans and hold placards during a demonstration on Whitehall opposite Downing Street in central London on April 7, 2018 in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip organised by the Palestinian Forum in Britain. (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)

“The majority of the people of the Gaza Strip are stateless refugees, subject to a decade long blockade and the denial of basic human and political rights. More than two thirds are reliant on humanitarian assistance, with limited access to the most basic amenities, such as water and electricity,” Corbyn wrote.

Corbyn also said that the Palestinians have a legitimate right to “return to their homes” inside the state of Israel.

“They have a right to protest against their appalling conditions and the continuing blockade and occupation of Palestinian land, and in support of their right to return to their homes and their right to self-determination,” he charged.

I have asked for this statement to be read at today's demonstration supporting the Palestinian people in Gaza:The…

Posted by Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday, April 7, 2018

He also said that he and his party “stand in solidarity with the Israelis who have taken to the streets this last week to protest their government’s actions.”

He called on the UK government to support a United Nations independent international inquiry into the killing of protesters.

His comments come following a week in which the Labour leader has been repeatedly accused of not doing enough to remove anti-Semitism from his party, and only a few days after he faced sharp criticism from within his own party for attending a Passover event organized by Jewdas, a group that has in the past tweeted that “Israel is itself a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of.”

UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has not directly spoken about the confrontations along the Gaza border – part of a March of Return campaign planned to culminate on May 15, marking the anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, which saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flee their homes during the 1948 War of Independence.

However, Johnson’s deputy, Alistair Burt, said that both Hamas and the IDF may be responsible for the deaths. “There is an urgent need to establish the facts, including why such a volume of live fire was used and what role Hamas played in the violence,” he wrote, the UK’s Independent newspaper reported.

Palestinian protestors use slingshots to throw stones towards Israeli security forces during clashes on the Gaza-Israel border in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

On Friday the Palestinian UN ambassador told reporters in New York that nine Gazans were killed and over 1,000 injured by Israeli fire at the border protests. The IDF, which did not confirm the figures, said it thwarted multiple efforts to breach the border fence — and that it used live fire to do so in some instances — as well as attempts to activate bombs against the troops under the cover of smoke.

“Rioters have attempted to damage and cross the security fence under the cover of smoke from their burning tires. They also attempted to carry out terror attacks and hurl explosive devices and firebombs,” the IDF said on Friday evening. “Our forces prevented breaches” of the fence.

Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, has said the weekly protests at the fence are aimed to erase the border and ultimately enable the liberation of Palestine.

Palestinian men wave their national flags as smoke billows from tires burned by Gazans at the Israel-Gaza border during a protest, east of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip, on April 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

An Islamist terror group, Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

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