US blocks UN resolution condemning Israel for deaths in Gaza clashes

Scrapped Security Council draft urged investigation into IDF response, reaffirmed ‘right to peaceful protest’

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks at a Security Council meeting on the the situation in Syria at UN headquarters in New York City on March 12, 2018. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks at a Security Council meeting on the the situation in Syria at UN headquarters in New York City on March 12, 2018. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

The United States on Saturday blocked a draft UN Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation of clashes on the Gaza-Israel border, diplomats said.

Kuwait, which represents Arab countries on the council, presented the proposed statement, which called for an “independent and transparent investigation” of the violence.

The draft council statement 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.”

The Israeli military on Saturday night identified 10 of the 15 people reported killed during violent protests along the Gaza security fence as members of Palestinian terrorist groups, and published a list of their names and positions in the organizations.

The draft statement was circulated to the council on Friday, but on Saturday the United States raised objections and said it did not support its adoption, a Security Council diplomat told AFP.

The US mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The proposed statement also called “for respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including protection of civilians,” according to the draft seen by AFP.

Council members “called upon all sides to exercise restraint and prevent a further escalation,” the draft said. The proposed statement stressed the need to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.

The Palestinian Authority on Saturday blamed the US and Britain for obstructing the Palestinian and Arab effort to persuade the Security Council to issue a resolution blasting Israel for the 15 Palestinian fatalities.

Yusef al Mahmoud, spokesperson for the PA government in Ramallah, said that Washington and London’s opposition to a resolution condemning Israel “turns them into accomplices in the horrific massacre committed by the Israeli occupation army against our defenseless people.”

Mahmoud accused the US and Britain of displaying “bias in favor of oppression and suppression.” He claimed that the Friday protests were “peaceful marches and demonstrations” to mark the 42nd anniversary of Land Day.

The Israeli government alone, he charged, was “directly responsible for this dreadful massacre, which resulted in 16 martyrs and hundreds of wounded.” (The number of fatalities was initially reported as 16, but was later changed to 15.)

The Security Council held a closed meeting on Friday night to discuss the clashes along the Gaza-Israel border, despite a request from the US and Israel to postpone deliberations for Saturday due to Passover holiday eve.

Palestinian protesters pray during a demonstration against Israel along the Gaza Strip border east of Khan Younis, Friday, March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Friday that he had instructed his envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, to ask the Security Council to provide “international protection” for the Palestinians.

On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties.” He also called for an independent and transparent investigation into the deaths and injuries during Friday’s clashes.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, accused the US administration of “providing a cover for Israel to continue its aggression against the Palestinian people.”

The US stance at the UN Security Council, he added, “encourages Israel to defy UN resolutions aimed at ending its occupation.”

Palestinian children wave a Palestinian flag as they burn a crossed-out poster depicting US President Donald Trump, during a protest near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip March 30, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

The Hamas terror group, for its part, expressed “regret” over the Security Council’s failure to issue a resolution condemning Israel.

The group condemned the US for thwarting the move at the Security Council and accused Washington of being “fully biased” in favor of Israel and “encouraging Israel to commit more violence and terrorism against Palestinian civilians.”

Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers released these images of members of its military wing who it acknowledged were among 16 Gazans it said were killed by Israeli fire during clashes along the security fence on Friday, March 30, 2018.

Earlier Saturday, Hamas publicly acknowledged that five members of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, were among the fatalities.

On Friday, some 30,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations along the Gaza border, during which rioters threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops on the other side of the fence, burned tires and scrap wood, sought to breach and damage the security fence, and in one case opened fire at Israeli soldiers.

The army said that its sharpshooters targeted only those taking explicit violent action against Israeli troops or trying to break through or damage the security fence. Video footage showed that in one case a rioter, whom the army included in its list of Hamas members, appeared to be shot while running away from the border. The army in response accused Hamas of editing and/or fabricating its videos.

The Palestinians’ march to Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday was the largest such demonstration in recent memory, calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land that their ancestors fled from in the 1948 War of Independence. It was dubbed the “March of Return.”

The army has remained on high alert even as the violence appeared to abate Friday evening, amid fears of persisting attacks, including infiltration attempts and rocket fire.

Protest organizers have said mass marches would continue until May 15, the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. Palestinians mark that date as their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands left or were forced to leave during the 1948 War of Independence. The vast majority of Gaza’s two million people are their descendants.

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 is 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.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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