Two Palestinians killed as clashes erupt in Gaza, West Bank for second day

Protests on border draw some 4,000 after funerals held for 60 people killed in deadly clashes in the Strip a day earlier

Mourners carry the body of Mohammed Dwedar a 27 year-old Palestinian killed during clashes along the Gaza border the previous day, during his funeral in Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)
Mourners carry the body of Mohammed Dwedar a 27 year-old Palestinian killed during clashes along the Gaza border the previous day, during his funeral in Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

Thousands of Palestinians gathered along Gaza’s border with Israel on Tuesday afternoon, burning tires as they renewed protests that a day earlier claimed the lives of 60 people, the army said.

Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on Tuesday amid the sporadic renewed clashes on the Gaza Strip border, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said. Another 160 were injured.

One fatality was identified as Nasser Ghorab, 51, the ministry said, adding he was hit east of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip. Further details of the incident were not yet available.

According to the IDF, some 4,000 Palestinians were taking part in protests along the security fence as of Tuesday evening, a significant decrease from the 40,000 people who participated in Monday’s border clashes.

Rioters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at soldiers on the other side of the fence and rolled burning tires at the border “with the intention of starting fires in Israel and harming Israeli forces,” the army said.

IDF soldiers responded with less-lethal riot dispersal means and, in some cases, live fire. “They are operating in accordance with the rules of engagement,” the army said.

Riots also erupted in the West Bank, with protesters clashing with Israeli troops in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus. A border policeman and a soldier were lightly wounded after being hit by rocks.

According to the army, some 1,300 Palestinians were taking part in violent demonstrations across the West Bank on Tuesday afternoon, which marks the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or “catastrophe” — the uprooting of hundreds of thousands who fled or were expelled during the 1948 Israeli Independence War.

The protests took place at 18 locations in the West Bank, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

Rioters set tires on fire and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops, the army said. The soldiers responded with less-lethal riot dispersal weapons, notably tear gas and rubber bullets.

The troops “are prepared for a variety of scenarios,” the army said.

In the Gaza Strip, protest organizers said Tuesday was set aside for funerals, in an apparent attempt to lower expectations for another mass protest later in the day.

Hamas had initially said mass border protests would continue on Tuesday.

File: A Palestinian protester carries a burning tire during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers near Ramallah in the West Bankon, May 11, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Palestinians also observed a strike to mourn the dozens said killed by Israeli troops in a mass protest on the Gaza border — the single deadliest day there since a 2014 war.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 60 people were killed in the demonstrations, most by gunfire, and more than 2,700 were injured.

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 Israeli military said its aircraft had struck 11 “terror targets” in a Hamas military compound Monday and that tanks targeted two Hamas posts. It said Gaza activists used 10 explosive devices and firebombs against troops and that shots were fired at soldiers positioned along the border.

Israel said Hamas used the border protests to try to breach the fence and carry out attacks in Israeli territory. Citing Hamas sources, Hadashot TV news said 10 of the terror group’s members were killed in the clashes, including a son of its co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi. 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.

Leaders of Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza and seeks Israel’s destruction, have said the protests aim to erase the border and “liberate Palestine.”

A Palestinian woman holding her national flag looks at clashes with Israeli forces near the border between the Gaza strip and Israel east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)Monday’s protests also targeted the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, viewed as a major provocation by the Palestinians and the Arab world. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Hamas has said protests would continue in a weekly format, but it was not clear if it would be able to maintain momentum during the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this week.

On Tuesday, there were no signs that Hamas had made a breakthrough in shaking off the blockade that was imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007. In a sign of an easing, Egypt extended the opening of its border crossing with Gaza, initially set to continue for four days, by two more days, until Thursday. Typically, the Rafah crossing is closed for most of the year.

In recent days, there had been negotiations between Egypt and Hamas, presumably on easing the blockade in exchange for ending the protests.

Monday emerged as the deadliest single day in Gaza since the last Israel-Hamas war in 2014. The Gaza health ministry said 60 Palestinians were killed Monday. Eight of those killed by gunfire were minors, the ministry said.

Israeli soldiers walk amidst smoke from a fire in a wheat field near the Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza Strip, which was caused by incendiaries tied to kites flown by Palestinian protesters from across the border., May 14, 2018. (JACK GUEZ/AFP)

In addition, more than 2,700 people were hurt, among them 1,360 by gunshots. Of the wounded, 130 were in serious or critical condition, it said.

The new wave of injured placed a new burden on Gaza’s already struggling hospitals, where key medicines and surgical supplies were lacking even before the latest bloodshed, in part because of the border closures.

Hospitals and other key installations in Gaza, such as sewage treatment and water pumping stations, heavily rely on generators because of hours-long power cuts every day. Gaza’s power crisis was further aggravated last week when Palestinian vandals destroyed the fuel terminal at Israel’s only cargo crossing into Gaza, halting the flow of fuel and gas.

The high casualty toll also revived international criticism of Israel’s use of lethal force against protesters. At the same time, the opening of the embassy, condemned by Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israel, further dimmed prospects of what US President Donald Trump had once touted as plans to negotiate the Mideast “deal of the century.”

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.”

Palestinians wave their national flag as they demonstrate near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, on May 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

The US 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.

The Security Council planned to meet Tuesday to discuss the violence, though it was not clear what might come out of the session.

Trump’s December recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, followed by Monday’s relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, was seen by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a betrayal. He reiterated Monday that he considers the US unfit to continue as Mideast broker and that he would not accept any peace deal that might be presented by the Trump administration.

He also decided on a series of steps that are bound to anger the US and Israel.

His foreign minister, Riad Malki, said Tuesday that the Palestinians would send a war crimes complaint against Israel to the International Criminal Court, in connection with Israel’s ongoing settlement construction in the West Bank. The Palestinians have had standing at the court since the UN General Assembly recognized a “state of Palestine” as a non-member observer in 2012.

Malki said “Palestine” would also join three international organizations, going against a longstanding US request to avoid this.

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