Palestinian envoy slams US stance on Gaza protests, warns Strip at boiling point
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Palestinian envoy slams US stance on Gaza protests, warns Strip at boiling point

PLO representative in Washington urges White House to condemn Israel’s use of force, says Ramallah ‘will engage’ in US-led peace talks when 2 states guaranteed

Palestinian demonstrators wave their national flag and shouts slogans against Israeli security forces during a protest on the Israel-Gaza border in the northern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinian demonstrators wave their national flag and shouts slogans against Israeli security forces during a protest on the Israel-Gaza border in the northern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The Palestinian representative in Washington warned Friday that the situation in Gaza is explosive and that the region cannot afford to wait for the promised new US peace plan.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s envoy to the United States, urged the United States to renew its support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Things are boiling in front of everybody. It’s a pressure cooker. It’s going to explode sooner or later. It’s not like we can wait,” Zomlot told AFP in an interview in Washington.

Zomlot’s office broke off contact with the White House team drawing up a plan for a US-mediated solution to the crisis after US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

There is little sign of a plan emerging and protests have erupted in Gaza, where Palestinians have burned tires and thrown firebombs and rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and live fire.

Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s General Delegation to the US. (Courtesy)

The White House has called for Palestinian leaders to keep their supporters back from the border, but has not spoken out against Israel’s use of force, further enraging Palestinians.

The White House on Thursday called on Palestinians to engage in solely peaceful protests and stay at least 500 meters from Gaza’s border with Israel. While the UN issued a warning to Israel to use “extreme caution” in facing the mass protests, US President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt put the onus squarely on Palestinians.

American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, center, Jared Kushner, left, and Jason Greenblatt, listen as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Palestine, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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.”

“Look at the situation in Gaza,” Zomlot said. “It deserves the US government strongest condemnation and action to uphold international law. We did not see condemnation.”

Zomlot insisted the Palestinians were sincerely happy to work with Trump’s administration and hopeful for peace until he recognized Israel’s claim on Jerusalem.

“If the US administration changes its position and returns to the long-held US policy of a two-state solution on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign state of Palestine, yes we will engage,” he said.

“Neither we can wait on the ground there — things are really boiling — nor we can wait for the US to change their position.”

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.

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

An injured Palestinian protestor is carried by fellow demonstrators during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Earlier, Kuwait, which represents Arab countries on the council, circulated a draft press statement to members affirming the Palestinians’ right to peaceful protest, calls for an independent and transparent probe of the clashes over the past week, and calls for all sides to show restraint and prevent escalation.

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

The IDF said Friday it thwarted multiple efforts to breach the border fence during the protests — 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.

“Rioters have attempted to damage and cross the security fence under the cover of smoke from their burning tires. They also attempted to carry out terror attacks and hurl explosive devices and firebombs,” the IDF said on Friday evening. “Our forces prevented breaches” of the fence.

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.”

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, speaking to protesters on Friday afternoon, warned that the Strip was ready to “explode in the face of the occupation.” Sinwar said the world should “wait for our great move, when we breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa,” referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.

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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