MOSCOW — Russia on Monday condemned “unacceptable” and “indiscriminate” fire by the Israeli army in clashes that have left some 30 Palestinians dead in the Gaza strip.
“Considering that the indiscriminate use of force against the civilian population is absolutely unacceptable, we once again call upon the Palestinians and Israelis to refrain from steps that will exacerbate this dangerous tension,” Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
It said it supported calls by the UN to conduct an investigation into the violence.
Russia on the same day also blamed Israel for a predawn missile strike on an air base in central Syria that reportedly killed 14 people.
The Kremlin angrily protested that it had not been told in advance of the attack even though Russian military advisers could have been present at the base. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, described that as “a cause for concern for us.”
Last Friday, in the second week of a series of events set to culminate on May 15, about 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border. Israel has described it as a riot orchestrated by the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza, while Palestinians say it was supposed to be a peaceful protest.
Israel said it opened fire when necessary to stop damage to the border fence, infiltrations and attempted attacks. It alleged that Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008, sought to use the protests as cover to carry out violence.
“The IDF views with great severity the Hamas terror organisation endeavors to turn the security fence parameter into a combat zone while attempting to damage security and defense infrastructure,” the army said in a statement Monday.
On Sunday, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she was opening a preliminary probe to determine whether there was enough evidence to launch a full-blown investigation into any alleged crimes committed by Israel or Hamas.
Palestinians have pointed to a handful of filmed instances from the demonstration that appeared to show protesters being shot at while posing no threat to IDF troops. The army has claimed such videos are fabricated by Hamas.
Gaza leaders have planned a series of so-called Marches of Return culminating in a planned million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day — when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with Israel’s creation.
On Friday, the Palestinian UN ambassador told reporters in New York that nine Gazans were killed and over 1,000 injured by Israeli fire at the border protests. The IDF, which did not confirm the figures, said 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.
“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.
Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, has said the weekly protests at the fence are aimed to erase the border and ultimately enable the liberation of Palestine.
An Islamist terror group, Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.
At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.
No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position has generally been that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.