UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called Friday for “an independent and transparent investigation” into deadly clashes in Gaza between Palestinians and Israeli troops as Security Council members urged restraint and a lowering of tensions on both sides.
Kuwait requested the emergency Security Council meeting to discuss the situation in Gaza, where Palestinians said Israeli fire killed 16 people in the conflict’s deadliest single day since the 2014 Gaza war.
After the meeting, a top UN official warned the violence “might deteriorate in the coming days, and urged Israel to “uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law.
“Lethal force should only be used as a last resort with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities,” Taye-Brook Zerihoun said.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 16 Palestinians were killed and over 1,400 injured by Israel during the mass protests.
The Security Council meeting was initially held behind closed doors, but it was later moved to an open hearing after it became clear the 15-member body could not agree on a statement condemning the clashes.
During the discussion, US diplomat Walter Miller urged both sides to calm tensions, and said “bad actors” were endangering the lives of innocent protesters.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life today. We urge those involved to take steps to lower tensions and reduce the risk of new clashes,” he told the council.
Miller said it was unfortunate that Israel could not take part in Friday’s meeting due to the Passover holiday.
“It’s vital that this council be balanced in its approach,” he said. “We should have found an arrangement for all parties to participate tonight.”
Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon said of the meeting: “While Jews around the world gathered with their family at the Seder table to celebrate the Passover holiday, the Palestinians sunk to a new deceitful low so that they could use the UN to spread lies about Israel.
“This shameful exploitation of our holiday will not succeed in stopping us from speaking the truth about the Hamas terror gatherings that aim to destabilize the region,” he concluded.
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour said he was disappointed the Security Council didn’t coalesce to condemn what he called a “heinous massacre” of peaceful demonstrators, or to support his call to provide protection for Palestinian civilians.
“We expect the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility” and “defuse this volatile situation, which clearly constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” Mansour said.
Some Security Council members suggested an investigation and emphasized that Israel should ensure force is only used proportionally. Some also made a point of noting Israel’s security concerns and calling on demonstrators to avoid violence.
They all expressed alarm at the flare-up of conflict in a volatile region.
“The situation is extremely worrisome,” said Swedish deputy Ambassador Carl Skau. Equatorial Guinea’s ambassador, Anatolio Ndong Mba, warned that continuing violence could “escalate out of control and could further imperil what is already a very delicate situation” in Gaza.
“The risk of escalation is very real,” the French representative said. “There is the possibility of a new conflict in the Gaza Strip.”
Friday’s clashes were the deadliest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza War. Israeli troops used live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas to keep thousands of Gazans from trying to approach the border fence. The military said protesters threw firebombs and rocks at soldiers, rolled burning tires at them and in one incident opened fire.
IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said the army faced “a violent, terrorist demonstration at six points” along the fence. He said the IDF used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence. “All the fatalities were aged 18-30, several of the fatalities were known to us, and at least two of them were members of Hamas commando forces,” he said in a late afternoon statement.
Israel was condemned by the Muslim world over the violence, with many accusing it of using “disproportionate force” against Palestinian rioters.
Ahead of the meeting, Danon told the Security Council that Hamas was intentionally endangering the lives of innocent civilians, and urged member states not to be “deceived” by the terrorist group.
“Today we saw yet another example of Hamas exploiting civilians as they sent children to the fence with Israel intentionally endangering their lives. The international community must not be deceived by Hamas’s attempts to conceal their crimes,” he said in statement.
Gazan leaders have vowed that Friday’s protests were only the beginning of a new campaign against Israel. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said the demonstrations would continue until there was no longer a border. The protests are expected to culminate with a march “through” the border fence on May 15.
Hamas is an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel. It seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Fatah in 2007.