International sympathy rains down as Israeli diplomats go on offensive
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But UNRWA's Gaza chief blames both sides

International sympathy rains down as Israeli diplomats go on offensive

US calls rocket and mortar fire 'reprehensible,' Italy tweets solidarity, and Ireland blames Hamas, in flurry of condemnation of attacks from Gaza

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The site where a mortar shell from Gaza hit a kindergarten in southern Israel on May 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The site where a mortar shell from Gaza hit a kindergarten in southern Israel on May 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday mobilized its diplomats stationed worldwide to engage decision-makers and leading media outlets, asking them to demand harsh condemnations of the mortar and rocket barrages that hit Israel’s south during the day.

Israeli diplomats were asked to “stress that this is an attack by a terrorist organization against civilians, in which, regretfully, there are injuries and from whence [we derive] our right to self-defense,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said Tuesday afternoon, as international condemnation of the attacks began to filter in.

Four Israelis were injured by shrapnel during several salvos of rockets and mortar rounds that targeted southern Israel, including three troops. One soldier suffered moderate wounds and the other three people were lightly injured, authorities said.

Jerusalem asked its envoys to stress “our expectations of unequivocal condemnations of this terror attack.”

“We see Hamas, which cooperates with [Palestinian Islamic] Jihad, as responsible for this escalation,” Nahshon said.

The Foreign Ministry sent a first cable to its diplomats earlier in the day containing similar instructions, he said.

Israeli men clean up the damage after mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip exploded near it, in southern Israel on May 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

“We request your urgent engagement in all ways at your disposal: vis-a-vis print and electronic media, digital channels, and leading connections,” the cable sent Tuesday afternoon read. “It is important to stress that these attacks are targeted at civilians [there are injuries].”

The cable further drew a connection between Tuesday’s attacks and Hamas’s recent so-called “March of Return” riots at the Israel-Gaza border, during which Israeli troops killed more than 100 Palestinians, most of them members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

The Foreign Ministry had been criticized for failing to plan a cogent public advocacy drive in the wake of border violence that reached a peak on May 14, as Israel was harshly condemned around the world.

In contrast, on Tuesday, international condemnation rained down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, much of it focusing on a mortar shell that landed in a kindergarten playground shortly before children arrived.

Envoys for the European Union, the United Nations, the US administration, and other nations vocally condemned the attacks.

US President Donald Trump’s special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, said Hamas had failed the Palestinians.

“Reprehensible – mortars fired from Gaza at a kindergarten and community in Israel! Hamas has failed – all it can offer is terror,” Greenblatt wrote on his Twitter account. “Palestinians in Gaza need real leaders to work on Gaza’s real problems with its water, its economy and so much more.”

France also condemned the attacks from Gaza.

“France condemns these unacceptable attacks, which are targeted at civilians, thankfully without fatalities. France’s commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering,” the Foreign Ministry in Paris stated.

“France condemns the use of violence, which is incompatible with a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reviving a credible political process requires all parties refrain from it.”

EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret was the first member of the international community to comment on Tuesday’s events.

EU Ambassador to Israel Emanuele Giaufret in his Ramat Gan office in December 2017. (Ariel Zandberg)

“As kids were preparing for school this morning a barrage of rockets from Gaza fell on southern Israel,” he tweeted. “One landed outside a kindergarten. I know the resilience of communities in southern Israel but indiscriminate attacks are totally unacceptable and to be condemned unreservedly.”

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said he was “deeply concerned by the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinian militants from Gaza.”

He stressed that at least one mortar shell hit the immediate vicinity of a kindergarten and could have killed or injured children.

“Such attacks are unacceptable and undermine the serious efforts by the international community to improve the situation in Gaza,” Mladenov’s statement went on. “All parties must exercise restraint, avoid escalation and prevent incidents that jeopardize the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.”

The Italian embassy tweeted its solidarity with the Israeli people.

“Full solidarity to Israel and Israeli people for the brutal mortar shelling from Gaza [which] landed just outside a kindergarten while kids were starting daily activities,” the embassy posted. “We condemn unconditionally any indiscriminate attack and we stand firmly by the Israeli communities at Gaza border.”

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney condemned Hamas, saying the violence was not helping the Palestinians.

“I strongly condemn firing of rockets from Gaza at Israel today,” he posted. “I continue to advocate strongly for people of Gaza who live in impossible conditions – but this Hamas led violence undermines [the] Palestinian cause and is counterproductive to political progress.”

In contrast, Matthias Schmale, the director of operations for the United Nations refugee organization (UNRWA) in Gaza, blamed both sides for the violence.

“Very worrying continuous firing of rockets back & forth between Israel and Gaza all day,” he wrote. “Hope for sake of all including Palestine refugees UNRWA is serving here that this doesn’t escalate further. Military conflict won’t solve underlying crisis and civilians will pay the price!”

Nahshon responded by accusing the UNRWA employee of “blind hypocrisy.”

“Another fine example of UNRWA not willing, or afraid, to admit the difference between the aggressor (Hamas and its consorts) and the country protecting its citizens against aggression,” Nahshon tweeted.

MK Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party, praised the response from the international community.

“Good to see the world condemn today’s terror attacks from #Gaza against Israeli civilians,” he posted. “Now our friends and allies need to translate their condemnations into unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself and act against the terrorism of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.”

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