US blocks Arab-led UN call for independent probe of Gaza protests
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Israel: UN should slam Hamas; it uses kids as human shields

US blocks Arab-led UN call for independent probe of Gaza protests

For second week, Washington the lone member of 15-member Security Council to reject statement condemning Israeli response to 'March for Return' violence

Illustrative: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voting against a Security Council resolution on Jerusalem on December 18, 2017. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)
Illustrative: US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voting against a Security Council resolution on Jerusalem on December 18, 2017. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)

The United States for a second week in a row blocked a UN Security Council statement supporting the right of Palestinians to “demonstrate peacefully” and endorsing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for an independent investigation into deadly protests in Gaza.

Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Friday evening that 14 of the 15 council nations agreed to the statement, but the United States, Israel’s closest ally, objected.

Mansour called the US rejection “very irresponsible,” saying it gave Israel “the green light to continue with their onslaught against the civilian population” in Gaza.

In response, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said the council “should condemn Hamas, which uses children as human shields while risking their lives, and must call for the end of these provocations which only increase the violence and tensions.”

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.

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

He told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York that one child was among the dead and a large number of children were injured, at least 48 according to one report. He said his information came from the Hamas-run Health Ministry and Red Crescent officials in Gaza.

Mansour condemned “these massacres in the strongest possible terms” and demanded a halt and an independent investigation.

The IDF said on Friday 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.

Mansour said the United Nations would keep all its options open including seeking a Security Council presidential statement or resolution, going to the UN General Assembly or the Geneva-based Human Rights Council where there are no vetoes, and urging secretary-general Guterres to establish an independent investigation.

“We will not give up,” Mansour said. “We will continue knocking on doors.”

Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour at the UN Security Council, December 8, 2017 (United Nations)

The Arab League’s UN Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said Arab ministers would also discuss options to pursue the Palestinian issue at a meeting in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh on April 12 ahead of a summit of Arab leaders in the country on April 15.

Earlier on Friday, Kuwait, which represents Arab countries on the council, circulated a draft press statement to member states that reaffirmed Palestinians’ right to peaceful protest, called for an independent and transparent probe of the clashes over the past week, and urged for restraint on both sides.

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

On Thursday, the White House had called on Palestinians to engage in solely peaceful protests and stay at least 500 meters from Gaza’s border with Israel. US President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason 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.”

Last Saturday, the US blocked a similar draft UN Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation of clashes on the border, diplomats said.

Palestinian protesters burn an American flag during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, Friday, April 6, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

Kuwait presented that statement as well, which called for an “independent and transparent investigation” of the violence. It also expressed “grave concern at the situation at the border.” And it reaffirmed “the right to peaceful protest” and expressed the council’s “sorrow at the loss of innocent Palestinian lives.”

Palestinian protestors burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City on April 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

On Friday, Palestinians burned tires, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air; others threw Molotov cocktails and stones at Israeli soldiers over the border fence, who responded with tear gas and live fire, witnesses said.

The IDF said on Friday 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.

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.”

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.

Last Friday, over 30,000 Gaza residents participated in mass demonstrations, many gathering in five tent encampments that had been set up from north to south along the narrow coastal strip’s border with Israel, each at a distance of about several hundred meters from the fence. Smaller groups, mostly young men, rushed forward, throwing stones, hurling firebombs or burning tires and drawing Israeli fire. Two were killed after opening fire on Israeli troops, Israel said, while others tried to breach or bomb the border fence.

 

Hamas leaders have declared in recent days that they plan “surprises” and that the ultimate goal of the marches is to remove the border and liberate 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.

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.

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said on Thursday that the Palestinians will continue their “struggle until they achieve their freedom and restore all their lands.” He said that the Palestinians’ “right to all of the soil of Palestine was absolute and clear.”

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.

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