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Israel rejects calls for independent probe of Gaza violence

Rights groups slam Tel Aviv for using live fire against unarmed protesters

By AFP - Apr 02,2018 - Last updated at Apr 02,2018

Medical staff carry an injured Palestinian man at an emergency medical tent after Israeli occupation forces cracked down on demonstration near the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Sunday (AFP photo)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israel rejected calls for an independent probe on Sunday after occupation forces killed 16 Palestinians and wounded hundreds more during a major demonstration along the border with the Gaza Strip.

Israel has faced questions from rights groups over its use of live fire on Friday, the bloodiest day in the conflict since a 2014 war, while Palestinians accuse soldiers of firing on protesters posing no threat.

In addition to the 16 Palestinians killed, more than 1,400 were wounded Friday, 758 of them by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, the health ministry in Gaza said.

No casualties were reported among Israelis.

Both UN Secretary  General Antonio Guterres and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini have called for an independent investigation.

On Saturday, the United States blocked a draft UN Security Council statement “urging restraint” and calling for an investigation of the violence, diplomats said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the actions of Israeli occupation forces for “guarding the country’s borders”, while Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman claimed the protests were not a “Woodstock festival”.

Lieberman said calls for an independent investigation were “hypocritical” and on Sunday repeated his rejection of such an investigation.

“There will be no commission of inquiry,” he told Israel’s public radio.

“There will be no such thing here. We shall not cooperate with any commission of inquiry”.

Netanyahu also hit back at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his sharp criticism of what he called Israel’s “inhumane attack” in Gaza.

“The most moral army in the world will not be lectured to on morality,” Netanyahu tweeted, referring to Israeli occupation forces.

‘Hard to believe’ 


On Friday, Israeli occupation forces opened fire on Palestinians who strayed from a main protest camp attended by tens of thousands and approached the heavily fortified fence cutting off the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The military has defended those actions and claimed they opened fire “only when necessary” against those throwing stones and firebombs or rolling tyres at soldiers.

It claimed there were attempts to damage the fence and infiltrate Israel, while alleging there was also an attempted gun attack against occupation forces along the border.

Israel accuses Hamas, the resistance group that runs Gaza and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of using the protest as “cover to carry out violence”.

The armed wing of Hamas said five of those killed during the protest were its members who were participating “in popular events side-by-side with their people”.

Israeli occupation forces allege 10 of the dead were killed “whilst carrying out acts of terror”, while videos being shared appear to show a protester running with a tyre being shot while seeming to pose no threat.

Israel’s army has issued a statement saying footage is being “edited and fabricated”, without referring to specific videos.

Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticised Israel’s use of live fire.

Israel had deployed troop reinforcements along the border, including more than 100 special forces snipers, saying it would prevent attempts to break through the fence.

“While some Palestinian demonstrators have thrown stones and other objects towards the fence, it’s hard to believe how this would be an imminent danger to the lives of well-equipped soldiers protected by snipers, tanks and drones,” Amnesty said.


More protests ahead 


The protest, which includes tents erected at various areas, is designed to last six weeks, ending around the time the United States moves its embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem in mid-May.

The embassy move has deeply angered the Palestinians, who see Jerusalem’s annexed eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

But while tens of thousands attended Friday’s start of the protests, demonstrations have since dwindled. Several hundred attended on Saturday, while on Sunday dozens milled around protest tents.

The protests may, however, again see large crowds after Friday’s prayers and for upcoming key dates.

May 14 will mark 70 years since the “creation of Israel”, and Palestinians will mark what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the following day.

The Nakba commemorates the more than 700,000 Palestinians who either fled or were expelled from their homes in the violent war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.

Gaza’s protest is in support of refugees and those calling for the right of return to the homeland from which they were forced to flee in what is now Israel.

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