Justice minister plays down prospect of war crimes charges over Gaza deaths

Shaked says IDF troops acting ‘in accordance with open-fire orders’; Liberman: Israelis celebrated life after Eurovision win, Palestinians glorify death

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a swearing in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, October 30, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends a swearing in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, October 30, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is unconcerned about the prospect of war crimes accusations for its military actions in the Gaza Strip, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said Tuesday, a day after 58 Palestinians were reported killed in clashes with IDF troops at the border.

Palestinian leadership has accused Israel of a “massacre” in Monday’s deadly riots, and many countries have condemned Israel’s reaction to the protests as excessive.

Asked during an interview if Israel should be worried about lawsuits at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Shaked said troops had done nothing illegal in the face of demonstrators’ violence. “IDF soldiers are performing well, in accordance with open-fire orders,” she told Army Radio.

“Security forces are doing a very good job and containing events,” she said. “Hamas is sacrificing its people for political purposes, but the IDF can handle the situation. I hope they got the message yesterday and things don’t get out of control.”

She said that if Israel wanted “the Gaza border to be completely quiet, there’s no choice but to conquer the Strip,” but added: “I don’t think that should be done at this time.”

Of the intense international criticism, Shaked said, “It’s unpleasant, but we have a lot of experience, and we can deal with it.”

Other Israeli leaders and legislators defended Israel’s conduct and placed the blame for Monday’s high death toll squarely on the shoulders of Palestinians.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israelis’ celebration in Tel Aviv Monday night of the recent Eurovision win was a prime example of the differences between Israeli and Palestinian mindsets.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Holocaust memorial ceremony in the Southern Israeli kibbutz of Yad Mordechai, on April 12, 2018. (Flash90)

“Yesterday tens of thousands of Israelis gathered at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square for a musical performance,” he tweeted. “In Gaza, on the other hand, thousands gathered to infiltrate Israel to commit acts of terror. That’s the difference between Israel’s culture of life and Hamas’s culture of death in Gaza.”

Israeli forces were gearing up Tuesday for a second straight day of Palestinian protests and the prospect that they may spread. May 15 is the long-expected culmination of seven weeks of protests at the Gaza Strip border fence, as Palestinians mark a yearly commemoration of the displacement of the Palestinian Arabs during the 1948 war with Israel, which Palestinians term the “catastrophe,” or Nakba.

Monday 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 wounded, according to figures from the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry. The dead included six minors, the health ministry said.

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.

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, MK Avi Dichter, leads a committee meeting at the Knesset, on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud MK Avi Dichter, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said he believed protests had not yet reached their peak. “We are not seeing things winding down,” he told Army Radio. “Nakba Day will be the climax.”

He added: “We can’t allow a wave of riled up people breaching the fence.”

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, a member of the high-level security cabinet, warned in an interview with the radio station that “if Hamas tries to aggravate the situation and to enter into conflict, it will not recover from it — we’ll go all the way.”

On the left, Meretz party head Tamar Zandberg refused to condone Israel’s actions on the border. She blamed the government for the deaths in Gaza, saying, “The reins are in the hands of the political leaders, not the [army] snipers. But the IDF must show restraint and control, so that yesterday’s dire outcome doesn’t repeat itself.”

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi at the Knesset on October 23, 2017 (Alster/FLASH90)

Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi went further, and echoed the Palestinian Authority in accusing the Israeli military of committing a “massacre” of unarmed people.

Tibi rejected Israel’s accusations that Palestinians were attacking troops and trying to commit terror acts as a “spin.” He said that “Even if five people had crossed the fence, they could have been arrested.”

Tibi expressed hope that on Tuesday protests “will spread everywhere.”

Monday’s clashes were timed to coincide with the official opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has been fiercely condemned by Palestinians.

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.

The council is due to hold an emergency meeting on the violence Tuesday, called at the request of Kuwait.

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