The Arab League called Thursday for an international probe into what it denounced as “crimes” by Israeli forces during deadly clashes on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly “March of Return” protests, which Israel says are orchestrated by the Hamas terror group and used as cover for attempted terror attacks and breaches of the border fence.
The largest and most violent demonstrations came Monday as the United States inaugurated its embassy in Jerusalem, with the Hamas-run health ministry reporting 62 Palestinians killed in the day’s clashes.
While Hamas denies organizing the riots, one of its officials, Salah Bardawil, said Wednesday that 50 of 62 Palestinians killed in Monday’s clashes were members of the group. “I am giving you an official figure. 50 of the martyrs in the recent battle were from Hamas,” he said. Islamic Jihad, another terror group in Gaza, said three of its members were among the dead.
“We call for a credible international investigation into the crimes committed by the occupation,” Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said Thursday at an extraordinary meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo to discuss the violence.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch supporter of Hamas, on Friday will host an emergency summit in Istanbul of the world’s main pan-Islamic body, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which he said would send a “strong message to the world.”
Erdogan, who also announced plans for a pro-Palestinian rally, has accused Israel of “genocide” for its handling of the clashes and engaged in a diplomatic tit-for-tat with Israel sparked by his recalling of the Turkish ambassadors in Israel and the US.
The weeks of clashes along the border may be reaching an end as Ramadan begins, but the death toll has led to international condemnations of Israel and calls for an independent investigation.
“We are facing a state of blatant aggression against international law and legitimacy that was embodied by the US embassy’s transfer in the occupying state to Jerusalem,” said Abul Gheit.
Israel has rejected those demands, saying it troops opened fire in accordance with army regulations in order stop attempted terror attacks and mass infiltrations by Hamas from the coastal enclave.
Hamas threatens ‘all force’
The clashes, which have seen unsuccessful attempts to break through the fence, have dwindled since Monday, and the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on Thursday may further dampen interest.
Friday — the day protests usually peak — will be a key test of whether the current round of violence will continue.
The violent demonstrations were meant to end on May 15, but Hamas leaders have said they want them to continue.
The Hamas-health ministry says some 116 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began, with one Israeli soldier reported wounded.
Hamas in a statement on Thursday signaled it could resort to arms in response to this week’s violence, but many analysts see that as unlikely for now.
“We stress to the Zionist enemy and its leaders that the resistance movements whose people are participating in this peaceful movement with all awareness and concern for our people can respond with all force,” it said.
‘Bloodshed would stop’
The Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo came after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Wednesday said his government was communicating with both sides “so that this bloodshed would stop.”
Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, told Al-Jazeera on Wednesday that the Egyptians “support the right of our people to struggle and the right of return, and stressed their keenness not to allow these marches to degenerate into an armed military confrontation.”
Intelligence Minister Israel Katz also credited Egypt for contributing to the reduction in violence in recent days on the border, though unlike Sinwar, he did not say Egypt was motivated by its support for the Palestinians.
Relating to Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh’s trip Sunday to Egypt, Katz said Haniyeh was told by the Egyptian intelligence minister that “Egypt knows and possesses evidence” Hamas funded the clashes and sent people to riot on the border.
“[Egypt] unequivocally warned him that if this continues, Israel will respond and take much harsher steps and Egypt will stand aside and not help,” Katz told Israel Radio Wednesday.
Israel has rejected criticism over Monday’s violence, with the United States strongly backing its ally and blaming Hamas for the deaths.
Calls for an independent probe into the deaths have come from many sides, including Britain, Germany, Canada, and Switzerland.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the European Union have also called for an independent investigation.
Israel and the US have resisted such calls, with the US vetoing a Security Council statement this week calling for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the clashes.