Netanyahu praises Israeli army after killings of 17 Palestinians

More than 1 500 Palestinians were injured in Friday's protests calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees (Mohammed Salem/Reuters}

More than 1 500 Palestinians were injured in Friday's protests calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees (Mohammed Salem/Reuters}

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised Israel’s security forces after the killings of 17 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, just as international condemnation over the Israeli army’s use of live ammunition against protesters grows.

In a statement on Saturday, Netanyahu thanked his troops for “guarding the country’s borders” and allowing “Israeli citizens to celebrate the [Passover] holiday peacefully”.

“Well done to our soldiers,” he said.

Several countries and rights groups have denounced the shooting of the Palestinian protesters, who demonstrated in their thousands along Gaza’s eastern border on Friday.

Palestinian rights group Adalah said the Israeli army on Saturday “accidentally” took responsibility for the attacks on Palestinian protesters, before deleting the post from their official Twitter page.

“Yesterday we saw 30 000 people; we arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed,” a screenshot of the post, shared by Adalah, read.

In the aftermath of the protests, leaders across several countries denounced Israel’s actions.

“I strongly condemn the Israeli government over its inhumane attack,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday during a speech in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the United Kingdom’s opposition Labour Party, described the Israeli army’s use of force as “appalling”.

“The UK government must make its voice heard on the urgency of a genuine settlement for peace and justice,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

Similar statements were issued from the Jordanian government, which called the attacks a “violation of the Palestinian right to protest peacefully and the use of excessive force against them”.

Qatar also condemned Israel on Friday, while Kuwait requested an emergency United Nations Security Council (UNSC)  meeting on the same day.

However, the United States blocked the issuing of UNSC statement that condemned Israel’s use of force.

Walter Miller, US representative to the UN, said “bad actors” were using the “protests as a cover to incite violence” and “endanger innocent lives.”

Miller’s comments echoed the Israeli government’s stance towards Friday’s demonstrations, which blamed Hamas, the movement that governs the Gaza Strip, for the killings, saying they used “violent riots to camouflage terror”. 

UN call for investigation

The mass protests, called the Great March of Return, were organised by civil society groups and supported by all political factions to call for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Palestinians in Gaza gathered in five different locations along the border with Israel, originally positioned about 700 metres away from a highly fortified fence.

More than 1 500 others were wounded after Israeli forces fired live ammunition at protesters, used tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to push them back from the border area, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

On Saturday, 35 more people were wounded by Israeli forces in the ongoing protests.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an “independent and transparent investigation” and reaffirmed “the readiness” of the world body to revitalise peace efforts.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s diplomatic chief, also called for an independent probe into the use of live ammunition by Israel’s military.

“The EU mourns the loss of life. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims,” Mogherini said in a statement on Saturday.

“The use of live ammunition should, in particular, be part of an independent and transparent investigation,” she added.

“Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are fundamental rights that must be respected.”

Mansour al-Otaibi, Kuwait’s ambassador to the UN, issued a statement criticising the Security Council for failing to take action against Israel.

“People in occupied Palestine are disappointed that the Security Council met, but did not take action yet to stop this massacre and to hold those responsible to account,” the statement read. 

Land Day commemoration

Friday’s demonstration also commemorated Land Day, which took place on March 30 1976, when six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli forces during protests against the Israeli government’s decision to expropriate massive tracts of Palestinian-owned land.

Land Day is seen by Palestinians as a continuation of an ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Zionist armed groups in 1948, when more than 750 000 Palestinians were driven off their lands in an event known to Arabs as the Nakba, or “catastrophe”.

Some 70 percent of Gaza’s two million population are descendants of the 1948 refugees.

Friday marked the beginning of a six-week sit-in demonstration leading up to the commemoration of the Nakba on May 15.

“When I saw the beauty of our stolen lands, the trees and the picturesque nature of it all, I wondered: why are we trapped here in a coop?” the campaign organiser, Ahmad Abu Artema, told Al Jazeera.

The developments come on the heels of months of anger over US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Trump also obliged Israeli demands to cut funding to UNRWA, the UN development body tasked with aiding millions of Palestinian refugees. — Al Jazeera

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