Although turnout continues to dwindle compared to the first weeks of Gaza’s ‘March of Return’ demonstrations, the IDF reported Friday that “hundreds of violent rioters,” prodded on by Hamas, were stopped by soldiers while attempting to break into Israel.
At least three Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire during the fifth straight week of Gaza border protests on Friday, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said “hundreds” were attempting to break through the security fence into Israel.
The death toll of those killed by Israeli live fire since the start of the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations in the Gaza Strip stands at 44, after Palestinian health ministry reported on Friday that three people had died and 349 were injured.
Protest organizers say they are demanding the right to return to ancestral homelands in what is now Israel, while Israel accuses Hamas and other groups of using the rallies as cover to commit acts of violence against Israel.
The IDF said that “hundreds of violent rioters” had attempted to break into Israel on Friday, although crowds continued to thin compared to the first weeks of the demonstrations.
“The rioters approached the fence, threw bombs, hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, stones and tried to set the fence on fire,” a military statement said, adding that soldiers responded “according to procedure” and foiled the attempt.
Images broadcast on Palestinian media showed that journalists wearing press vests were again wounded by live fire. The death of two journalists and several minors in previous protests sparked furious international criticism.
Ahead of Friday’s march, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, issued a statement condemning what he called Israel’s excessive use of force in Gaza.
“The use of excessive force against any demonstrator is reprehensible, but children enjoy additional protection under international law. It is difficult to see how children, even those throwing stones, can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected security force personnel.”
“Images of a child being shot as he runs away from Israeli security forces are downright shocking,” Zeid added, referring to the case of 15 year-old Mohammad Ayyoub who was killed on 20 April.
Israel says its troops only open fire in self-defense or to stop protesters attempting to breach the barrier separating the territory from Israel.
It also upholds that Hamas has hijacked the protests for its own ends and has accused the group of fabricating video footage.
Zeid also expressed deep concern over the future of Gaza and the protesters.
“I am extremely concerned that by the end of today — and next Friday, and the Friday after that — more unarmed Palestinians who were alive this morning will have been killed, simply because, while exercising their right to protest, they approached a fence, or otherwise attracted the attention of the soldiers on the other side,” he said.
“Israel’s failure to consistently prosecute violations committed by members of its security forces, encourages them to use deadly force against their fellow unarmed human beings, even when they present no threat,” the High Commissioner concluded.
The “March of Return” is set to climax on May 15, when Israel will mark 70 years of independence — a day Palestinians mark as the “nakba” (“catastrophe” in Arabic) — and the United States will cut the ribbon on its controversial new embassy in Jerusalem.
Defense from Haley
In a reprieve for Israel, US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley on Thursday brushed aside criticism of Israeli conduct and instead blasted Hamas for what she said was its use of human shields in the protests.
“Anyone who truly cares about children in Gaza should insist that Hamas immediately stop using children as cannon fodder in its conflict with Israel,” Haley told a UN Security Council meeting dedicated to the Middle East.
She denounced the use of civilians as human shields throughout the Middle East in her remarks to the council as it met to discuss the situation in the region and the violence in Gaza.
“It’s difficult to think of a more cowardly act — even for a terrorist — than hiding behind innocent civilians,” she said.
At the same meeting, Israel’s envoy Danny Danon said the “vast majority” of those shot were members of terrorist organizations.
Last week, UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov, in response to the shooting of 15-year-old protester Mohammad Ibrahim Ayoub, tweeted: “It is OUTRAGEOUS to shoot at children! How does the killing of a child in Gaza today help peace? It doesn’t! It fuels anger and breeds more killing.”
Gaza-based Hamas group claims to be embracing nonviolent tactics in its latest string of border protests, which has been characterized by the throwing of firebombs, burning of tires and burning kites.
Three high-ranking Hamas officials told The Associated Press that large-scale protests, like those witnessed in recent weeks, was the only card the group has left. They explained that they did not intend to fight another cross-border war with Israel.
Israel and Hamas have fought three bloody wars since the militant group won the elections in Gaza in 2006.
Israel carried out a number of full-scale military operations in response to a barrage of rocket fire from Hamas. Officials claimed that they learned from confronting Israel’s powerful military with rocket attacks and are focusing their efforts on what they deem as a ‘nonviolent’ strategy.
Images out of #Gaza today. Notice the last picture with children taking part in the #GreatReturnMarch. As @riotgoy says: “You really shouldn’t be publishing pictures of parents having great big lunches while their kids get sent off to get shot by the #IDF” pic.twitter.com/rS6swaSFjX
— Anna Ahronheim (@AAhronheim) April 27, 2018
The group has reportedly held workshops for activists near the border, educating them on conduct in nonviolent protests which permits throwing stones but prohibits the use of knives. Leader Ismail Haniyeh also delivered a speech to backdrop of posters depicting, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi — well-known figures of the nonviolent movement.
The new methods, according to another senior Hamas official Bassem Naim, have gained international traction and refocused attention on the dire conditions in the coastal enclave. The humanitarian situation in the Strip has seen the 1.8 million residents with limited access to drinking water, electricity shortages and reduced access to medical treatment.
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