Australia’s prime minister on Tuesday blamed Hamas for the dozens of deaths in Gaza in violent clashes the previous day between Palestinians protesters and Israeli forces along the border.
It was the bloodiest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war, with at least 58 Palestinians killed and more than 2,700 Palestinians wounded, according to figures from the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry. The dead included six minors, the health ministry said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Melbourne Radio 3AW the loss of life was “tragic” but that “Hamas’s conduct is confrontational. They’re seeking to provoke the Israeli Defense Forces.”
Turnbull said the terror group was “pushing people to the border. In that conflict zone, you’re basically pushing people into circumstances where they are very likely to be shot at.”
Meanwhile Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called on Israel to be proportionate in its response and refrain from excessive use of force. She added in a statement that Israel had the right to protect it population and called on Palestinians “to refrain from violence and attempting to enter into Israeli territory.”
The clashes began before Israeli officials and a White House delegation including US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka formally opened the embassy in Jerusalem, and continued throughout the day. Monday’s demonstrations, which were timed to coincide with the move, were also part of the weeks-long March of Return campaign marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel, or the Nakba (“catastrophe”), as Palestinians call it.
Israel has blamed Hamas for the deadly violence, saying the terror group encouraged and led the protests, which included attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to breach the border fence.
The IDF’s spokesman said Hamas deployed 12 separate terrorist “cells” to try to breach the border at different locations, and that all were rebuffed. Citing Palestinian sources, Israel’s Hadashot TV news said 10 of the terror group’s members were among those killed in the clashes, including a son of its co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi.
Several countries condemned the events, questioning the proportionality of Israel’s response while urging Hamas to refrain from violence. The EU called for “utmost restraint” by all sides. South Africa and Turkey said they were recalling their ambassadors from Israel, with Ankara accusing Jerusalem of “genocide.”
The United States was one of the only countries to endorse Israel’s version of the events and fully blame Hamas for the deaths on the border. Later Monday it also blocked the adoption of a UN Security Council statement that would have called for an independent probe of the violence.
A draft of the statement read, “The Security Council expresses its outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest. The Security Council calls for an independent and transparent investigation into these actions to ensure accountability.
“The Security Council calls upon all sides to exercise restraint with a view to averting further escalation and establishing calm,” it said.
The council is due to hold an emergency meeting on the violence Tuesday, called at the request of Kuwait. It’s not immediately clear what will come out of the discussion. At an emergency meeting after similar protests in March, council members urged restraint on both sides but didn’t decide on any action or joint message.