Israel faces diplomatic fallout

Israel faces diplomatic fallout

AP:  

Israel faced a growing backlash yesterday and new charges of using excessive force, a day after Israeli troops firing from across a border fence killed 59 Palestinians and wounded more than 2,700 at a mass protest in Gaza.

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador, while Ireland and Belgium summoned Israeli envoys. Leading European countries and the UN human rights office called for an investigation of the bloodshed, and the UN Security Council held a moment of silence for the Palestinians killed Monday as it opened discussions on the Gaza situation.

Israel says it has the right to defend its border against a possible mass breach and accuses Gaza’s Hamas rulers of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests. A military spokesman said that 14 of those killed a day earlier were involved in attacks.

Monday marked the deadliest day in Gaza since a 2014 cross-border war with Israel, and was part of a high-stakes campaign by the Islamic militant Hamas to break a decade-long border blockade.

Gaza Health Ministry, which provided the toll from Monday’s violence, said a nine-month-old girl died from teargas exposure, but medical officials later cast doubt on that claim, saying the infant had a pre-existing medical condition. It remained unclear yesterday where and how the child died.

In jarring contrast to the Gaza bloodshed, the US held a festive inauguration ceremony for a new US Embassy in contested Jerusalem at the same time Monday, just several dozen miles away. The juxtaposition of violence on the Gaza border and festivities attended by a Trump Administration delegation — captured on split screens in TV broadcasts around the world — briefly drew attention to the plight of Gaza and its two million people.

The relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv, condemned by Palestinians as blatantly pro-Israel, further dimmed prospects of what President Donald Trump had once touted as plans to negotiate the “deal of the century”. The Palestinians seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as a capital.

 The high casualty toll revived international criticism of Israel’s open-fire policies. Rights groups have said the use of potentially lethal force against protesters who pose no immediate threat to soldiers’ lives is unlawful. The military has said presumably less lethal rubber-coated steel pellets are not effective in keeping demonstrators from the fence.

Germany, Belgium and Ireland called for an investigation of the violence.

In Brussels, Prime Minister Charles Michel called the Israeli actions “unacceptable violence” and said there was a “clear lack of proportionality”. Michel said the violence and killings would be moved onto the calendar of the European Union summit in Sofia today and tomorrow.

German spokesman Steffen Seibert said the violence “concerns us greatly”, but also accused Hamas of cynically escalating the unrest.

Ireland’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to express “shock and dismay”. Turkey asked Israel’s ambassador to leave temporarily and the country lowered flags to half-mast to mark three days of mourning. China called on Israel to exercise restraint. On Monday, South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel until further notice.

The UN human rights office said Israel has repeatedly violated international norms by using deadly live fire to repel protesters from its border with Gaza, suggesting its forces should instead arrest those who reach the fence.

The UN Security Council met yesterday to discuss the violence, beginning with a moment of silence at the suggestion of Poland, the current council president. It was not immediately clear what might come out of the session given deep divisions between most of the world and the US, Israel’s close ally.

For Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007, Monday’s border protest was the culmination of a weeks-long campaign to try to break the blockade. The group has led weekly protests near the border with Israel since late March.

There were no signs yesterday that Hamas had made a breakthrough in shaking off the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt. Egypt extended the opening of its border crossing with Gaza, initially set to continue for four days, by two more days, until Thursday. Typically the Rafah crossing is closed for most of the year.

In recent days, there had been negotiations between Egypt and Hamas, presumably on easing the blockade in exchange for ending the protests.

Hamas has said protests would continue in a weekly format, but it was not clear if it would be able to maintain momentum during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this week.

Khaled Batsh, the head of a grass-roots organising committee, said the next mass march would be held June 5, to mark the anniversary of the 1967 Mideast war in which Israel captured Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Protest organisers said yesterday was set aside for funerals, in an apparent attempt to lower expectations of another mass protest later in the day. Thousands joined funeral processions, though many of those killed Monday had been buried the same day, in line with Muslim tradition.