ISRAELI forces on Friday shot and killed 18 Palestinians as they assaulted rallies that set out to commemorate Land Day on many locations at the eastern border of the Gaza Strip. They opened fire at thousands of Palestinians killing 18 and injuring about 1,400 others since Friday morning, said medical sources.
Human rights group Adalah denounced the Israeli army’s use of live fire as a ‘brutal violation of the international legal obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants,’ and called for an investigation into the killings. President Mahmoud Abbas announced that Saturday would be a national day of mourning in honour of the Palestinians killed by the Israeli forces.
He instructed the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, to take the necessary immediate procedures to request international protection for the people of Palestine.
Mansour told WAFA that at the instructions of President Abbas, Palestine’s permanent mission to the UN approached the UN Security Council to uphold its responsibilities and provide protection to the Palestinian people in the face ‘of the Israeli army brutality’.
Palestinians observed a general strike in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem on Saturday heeding a call for the strike by the nationalist and Islamic forces as they also observed a day of mourning for the 18 Palestinians killed and over 1,400 wounded in the massacre the Israeli army had committed on Friday on the Gaza borders. Shops shuttered their doors, universities and schools suspended their classes and most businesses observed the general strike in protest against the Land Day massacre.
Israeli snipers stationed on the Gaza borders killed the 15 Palestinians participating in the peaceful March of Return activity called for in Gaza to observer Land Day, which takes pace on March 30 of every year in commemoration of the 1976 Palestinian uprising against Israeli seizure of land inside Israel. In addition to the 18 dead, around 800 people were shot and wounded by live bullets and another 600 suffered from tear gas inhalation, which was dropped on the almost 50,000 participants in the activity, many of them children, by Israeli drones.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) questioned on Friday Israel’s use of live ammunition against Palestinian civilians following the Israeli army shooting and killing 18 Palestinians and injuring over 1,400 in one day on the Gaza border with Israel.
Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, said in a tweet that ‘the shocking number of Palestinians killed and hurt today by soldiers firing across the Gaza fence raises serious questions about Israel’s longstanding use of live ammunition to police demonstrations.’ Whitson also rejected Israel’s justification for the heavy and unrestrained use of firearms against civilians taking part in a peaceful rally, saying ‘Israel’s allegations of violence by some protesters do not change the fact that using lethal force is banned by international law except to meet an imminent threat to life.’
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on Friday for an independent and transparent investigation into Israeli army killing of 18 Palestinian civilians and wounding over 1,400 others on the Gaza border. An estimated 50,000 Palestinians were participating in the Great March of Return organized to coincide with Land Day and which is to continue through May 15, the Nakba (catastrophe) Day when Israeli snipers deployed on the borders shot and killed 15 participants and wounded hundreds others.
Guterres call for a probe came as the Security Council convened an emergency meeting at the request of Kuwait, this month’s chair, so its members could be briefed on the deadly incidents. The United States and Israel attempted to delay a Council meeting on the ground that Israel was observing the first night of the Jewish Passover holiday.
A statement issued by a UN spokesman said the Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the reports of the deadly clashes and he appealed to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties, particularly measures that could place civilians in harm’s way.
‘This tragedy underlines the urgency of revitalizing the peace process aiming at creating the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations for a peaceful solution that will allow Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side peacefully and in security,’ the statement said, reaffirming the readiness of the United Nations to support the process.
Meanwhile, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, the deputy UN political affairs chief, told the Security Council that soon after the demonstrations started, the situation turned deadly in several spots. ‘There is fear the situation might deteriorate in the coming days,’ said Zerihoun, telling the Council that the UN would continue to stress that civilians should not be targeted and that all actors refrain from putting children at risk. He also called on Israel to uphold its responsibilities under international law, emphasising that lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities.
‘The developments in Gaza today are again a painful reminder of the consequences of a missing peace between Israel and Palestine, and the need to step up our efforts in support of a peaceful resolution of the conflict,’ he concluded.
Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah called on Saturday for holding Israel accountable for what he said was its ‘premeditated murder’ of Palestinians in Gaza on Friday. Hamdallah said on his Facebook page that as the Israeli government bears full responsibility for the shooting dead of 18 Palestinian civilians and the wounding of hundreds others on the Gaza periphery, ‘the international community is called upon to hold Israel accountable for the premeditated murder of our people, to take decisive action to end the occupation, to provide international protection to the Palestinian people, and to resolve the final status issues, specifically the refugees issue based on United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
He said the Palestinians, whose blood was spelled in the Israeli massacre, ‘have exemplified the will of our people for existence and steadfastness and sent a clear message to the (Israeli) occupation and to the entire world that our people will not accept the continuation of occupation of their homeland, the plundering of their land, the attack against their holy places and the crimes committed against them.’
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said on Saturday that the American objections at the United Nations Security Council, which obstructed condemnation of Israeli murder of 15 Palestinians and injury of hundreds others in Gaza on Friday, constitute a cover for Israel to continue its aggression against the Palestinian people and encourages it to defy UN resolutions aimed at ending its occupation.
Abu Rudeineh said in a press statement that ‘the continuation of the US administration’s current approach in protecting the occupation and blocking all international attempts to pressure the government of (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu to stop its aggression and brutality will only increase the steadfastness of our people and their resolve to fight all conspiracies targeting their existence and their land and to prove that the Palestinian cause is alive and will not die and cannot be bypassed or liquidated.’
He added: ‘The message of the Palestinian people yesterday was clear, that the Palestinian land belongs for its legitimate owners and that the occupation, no matter how long it takes, will vanish, and the settlements, regardless of their expansion, will be extricated by the sacrifices of our people and the steadfastness of their leadership.”
Abu Rudeineh stressed that ‘our people will not bow down to the difficult and complex situation that some are trying to impose on us as they face a historic challenge to defeat attempts to falsify and distort history, which the occupation and its supporters imagine they are undertaking to change the character of our land and existence through its internationally rejected settlement plans.
‘The official and popular Palestinian movement will continue until we achieve our legitimate rights to expose the policy of occupation and aggression, both in the Security Council or at the UN General Assembly to seek international protection for our unarmed people, and in other regional and international forums such as the Non-Aligned Movement or the coming Arab summit, where we will reassert the Palestinian position which adheres to the constants and to Jerusalem and its holy places and rejects all attempts to liquidate our cause and the suspicious projects that some are trying to promote.’
The official spokesman for the president concluded his statement saying, “Yesterday, the Palestinian people renewed their commitment to what they have achieved during the long period of their heroic struggle, especially their unity and political representation through their legitimate and sole representative, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and to bring down all conspiracies aimed at our national project, which thousands of our sons have sacrificed for with their blood and life.’
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu expressed on Saturday his country’s support for the Palestinian people while offering in a telephone call to his Palestinian counterpart Riyad Malki his government’s condolences for the Palestinians shot and killed by Israel on Friday. Çavusoglu informed Malki of the telephone conversation between Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan and US President Donald Trump in which Erdogan called on Trump to reconsider his decision recognising Jerusalem as capital of Israel and plan to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
He also informed him of the contacts Turkey has had with other governments to provide protection to the Palestinian people and to find a solution that would end their suffering. Çavusoglu said he was willing to work with Malki on anything that would help secure Palestinian legitimate rights and independence.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military has threatened to step up its ‘response’ if tensions continue on the Gaza fence shortly after the UN held an emergency meeting over the regime’s massacre of over a dozen Palestinians during an anti-occupation mass rally in the coastal enclave. Israel’s chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said Saturday that the regime has thus far restricted its response to those he claimed to be trying to breach Gaza’s border with the occupied territories. He added that the military would, however go after those behind the angry demonstrations ‘in other places too.’
The latest threat came a day after the 15-member Security Council met at Kuwait’s request, with its UN representative Mansour al-Otaibi describing the situation in the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip as ‘very dangerous.’ Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said he expected ‘the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility’ regarding a ‘heinous massacre’ of peaceful Gaza demonstrators by Israeli forces and ‘defuse this volatile situation, which clearly constitutes a threat to international peace and security.’
Meanwhile, assistant UN secretary general for political affairs, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, urged maximum restraint amid ‘fear that the situation might deteriorate in the coming days. ‘Israel must 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,’ he added.
Additionally on Friday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged ‘an independent and transparent investigation’ into the Gaza clashes and reaffirmed the world body’s ‘readiness’ to support the so-called peace process. Farhan Haq, a deputy spokesperson for Guterres, quoted the UN chief as saying that the Gaza ‘tragedy underlines the urgency of revitalising the peace process aiming at creating the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations for a peaceful solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Israeli representative at the UN, however, did not take part in Friday’s Security Council meeting.
The Saudi regime is still silent on the bloody Israeli crackdown on the Palestinian protest. On Friday, thousands of people attended the funeral of one of the Palestinian victims, identified as Sari Walid Abu Odeh, in the city of Beit Hanoun on the northeast edge of the Gaza Strip.
Friday’s rallies in Gaza coincided with the 42nd anniversary of Land Day, which commemorates the murder of six Palestinians by Israeli forces in 1976. The Return rallies will culminate on 15 May, which marks Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe) on which Israel was created.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli siege since June 2007. The blockade has caused a decline in living standards as well as unprecedented unemployment and poverty. Tel Aviv has waged three wars on the coastal enclave since 2008, including the 2014 offensive, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead.