US says it’s ‘deeply saddened’ by Gaza clashes
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US says it’s ‘deeply saddened’ by Gaza clashes

State Department calls on ‘those involved’ in border confrontations to ease tensions, says violence hurts prospects for peace

Relatives of 27-year-old Palestinian farmer Omar Samour, who was killed earlier in the day by Israeli tank fire after Israelis said he shot at troops, mourn during a funerary procession in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza strip on March 30, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
Relatives of 27-year-old Palestinian farmer Omar Samour, who was killed earlier in the day by Israeli tank fire after Israelis said he shot at troops, mourn during a funerary procession in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza strip on March 30, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

The United States is “deeply saddened” by Palestinian deaths in Friday’s clashes along the Gaza border, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“We are deeply saddened by loss of life in #Gaza today,” Nauert wrote on Twitter. “We urge those involved to take steps to lower tensions.”

She added that the international community “is focused on taking steps to improve the lives of the Palestinians and is working on a plan for peace. Violence furthers neither of those goals.”

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 approaching 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.

Palestinian protestors run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces during clashes following a demonstration commemorating Land Day, near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on March 30, 2018./ AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 16 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. More than 1,400 were injured, including 758 by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, it said.

Palestinians accused Israel of using disproportionate force, as did the majority of the Msulim world.

The UN Security Council was in talks on the situation in Gaza on Friday at the request of Kuwait, a diplomat said.

After the closed-door emergency session, UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation into the deaths of the Palestinian protesters.

Ahead of the meeting, Israel’s ambassador to the UN 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,” Ambassador Danny Danon 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.

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