Europeans call for independent inquiry into Gaza violence

UK, Germany and Belgium say probe needed to clarify bloody clashes Monday; UN rights office accuses Israel of indiscriminately killing protesters who approached fence

Palestinians run for cover from tear gas near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Mohammed ABED)
Palestinians run for cover from tear gas near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Mohammed ABED)

Germany, the United Kingdom and Belgium signaled on Tuesday their support for an independent probe into the deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border, after the United States blocked a UN Security Council statement calling for such an investigation.

“It is our view that an independent investigation commission can clarify the violent incidents and the bloody violations at the border area,” said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

Germany also blamed the Palestinian terror group Hamas which controls Gaza for stoking the flames.

“It is clear that everyone has the right to peaceful protest, but it is just as clear that this right to peaceful protest should not be abused in order to provoke violence. And Hamas has been pushing for an escalation of violence,” added Seibert.

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)

“The United Kingdom supports an independent investigation into what has happened,” Alistair Burt, a minister at the Foreign Office responsible for Middle East affairs, told parliament.

Belgium also called for an international investigation and said the violence and killings would be moved onto the calendar of the European Union summit in Sofia on Wednesday and Thursday.

Prime Minister Charles Michel called the Israeli actions “unacceptable violence,” saying “there is a clear lack of proportionality and we are asking for an international investigation.”

UN: Israel shooting anyone neat border

The UN rights office condemned Israel’s actions Tuesday and said it seemed that any Palestinian protesting in Gaza, regardless of whether they pose an imminent threat, is “liable” to be killed by Israeli forces.

“The mere fact of approaching a fence is not a lethal, life-threatening act, so that does not warrant being shot,” rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva.

“It seems that anyone is liable to be shot dead,” he added, stressing that international laws which apply to Israel make clear that “lethal force may only be used as a measure of last, not first, resort.”

“It is not acceptable to say that ‘this is Hamas and therefore this is OK’,” Colville added, in an apparent dismissal of Israel’s justification for the high casualty levels among Palestinians in clashes along the flashpoint border.

Palestinian protesters amid tear gas and smoke billowing from burning tires, east of Gaza City on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/ Mohammed Abed)

Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist terror group that controls Gaza, of being behind the protests and says it is merely defending its territory.

The Israel Defense Forces said around 40,000 Gazans participated in “unprecedentedly” violent riots along the security fence on Monday. The protests, which Israel said were spurred by Hamas seeking to carry out terror attacks, saw multiple cases of shots fired at Israeli troops and several unsuccessful attempts to breach the border.

IDF soldiers responded with tear gas and, in some cases, live fire.

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.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Tuesday that “those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account.”

Most of the 60 Gazans who died Monday were shot by Israeli snipers, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said.

At least 2,770 others were wounded in the bloodiest day in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war.

The United States on Monday laid the blame of the deadly unrest “squarely on Hamas,” which it said was “intentionally and cynically provoking” a response from Israel.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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