EU says Gaza deaths ‘raise serious questions about Israel’s use of force’

After 9 killed in Friday protests, union says violence by both sides must be addressed, calls for ‘utmost restraint’; France condemns Israel’s ‘indiscriminate fire’

Palestinian protestors burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City on April 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinian protestors burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City on April 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The European Union on Saturday said the deaths of Palestinian protesters in violence along the Gaza border a day earlier “raise serious questions about proportionate use of force” by Israel.

Such concerns, the EU said in a statement, “must be addressed.”

The EU said that “Reports by the Israeli Defense Forces about throwing of stones and firebombs against their positions and attempts to cross the fence into Israel must also be clarified.”

The statement called on all sides to exercise “utmost restraint,” and stressed that “The priority now must be to avoid any further escalation and loss of life.”

It urged Palestinian factions to “engage seriously to allow the Palestinian Authority to resume its full responsibilities in Gaza, which is crucial for improving the situation of the people in Gaza,” adding that “The EU stands ready to continue to support this process with all the instruments at its disposal.”

France’s Foreign Ministry also condemned what it called “indiscriminate fire” and said “light must be shed on these serious events.”

On Friday night the US blocked a UN Security Council statement supporting the right of Palestinians to “demonstrate peacefully” and endorsing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for an independent investigation into the deadly protests in Gaza.

A UN Security Council meeting on February 26, 2018. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)

Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Friday evening that 14 of the 15 council nations agreed to the statement, but the United States, Israel’s closest ally, objected.

Mansour called the US rejection “very irresponsible,” saying it gave Israel “the green light to continue with their onslaught against the civilian population” in Gaza.

In response, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said the council “should condemn Hamas, which uses children as human shields while risking their lives, and must call for the end of these provocations which only increase the violence and tensions.”

Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered along the Gaza border on Friday, burning tires and throwing firebombs and rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and live fire, the army and witnesses said, as Palestinians held a second “March of Return” protest.

Mansour said that nine Gaza civilians were killed and over 1,000 wounded in the clashes, and again urged the UN Security Council to demand an independent investigation into the deaths.

He told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York that one child was among the dead and a large number of children were injured, at least 48 according to one report. He said his information came from the Hamas-run Health Ministry and Red Crescent officials in Gaza.

“Hamas sent children out ahead [toward the fence], cynically using them,” the IDF’s spokesman, Ronen Manelis, said on Friday night. Manelis specified that eight explosive devices and numerous petrol bombs were thrown, and that the IDF faced several attempts “to cut through the fence.”

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour speaks to reporters on February 16, 2017 at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Mansour condemned “these massacres in the strongest possible terms” and demanded a halt and an independent investigation.

The IDF said on Friday 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.

Mansour said the United Nations would keep all its options open including seeking a Security Council presidential statement or resolution, going to the UN General Assembly or the Geneva-based Human Rights Council where there are no vetoes, and urging secretary-general Guterres to establish an independent investigation.

“We will not give up,” Mansour said. “We will continue knocking on doors.”

Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour at the UN Security Council, December 8, 2017. (United Nations)

The Arab League’s UN Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said Arab ministers would also discuss options to pursue the Palestinian issue at a meeting in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh on April 12 ahead of a summit of Arab leaders in the country on April 15.

Earlier on Friday, Kuwait, which represents Arab countries on the council, circulated a draft press statement to member states that reaffirmed Palestinians’ right to peaceful protest, called for an independent and transparent probe of the clashes over the past week, and urged for restraint on both sides.

On Twitter, Kuwait’s UN mission said the UNSC “should address this matter and have a unified positions… What is happening is a violation of international law.”

On Thursday, the White House had called on Palestinians to engage in solely peaceful protests and stay at least 500 meters from Gaza’s border with Israel. US President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt said protesters “should remain outside the 500-meter buffer zone; and should not approach the border fence in any way or any location.”

He added, in a statement: “We condemn leaders and protestors who call for violence or who send protestors — including children — to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed. Instead, we call for a renewed focus by all parties on finding solutions to the dire humanitarian challenges facing Gazans.”

Last Saturday, the US blocked a similar draft UN Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation of clashes on the border, diplomats said.

Kuwait presented that statement as well, which called for an “independent and transparent investigation” of the violence. It also expressed “grave concern at the situation at the border.” And it reaffirmed “the right to peaceful protest” and expressed the council’s “sorrow at the loss of innocent Palestinian lives.”

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said 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 pose a “significant threat.”

Friday’s demonstration was the second of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said would be several weeks of “March of Return” protests which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.

Israel has accused Hamas of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests and said it will prevent a breach of the fence at all costs.

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