Gazans bury dead after bloodiest day of border protests

Gazans buried their dead after the Palestinians' bloodiest day for years, when Israeli forces opened fire on protesters angered by the new US embassy in Jerusalem.
A Palestinian man gesturing during a protest marking the 70th anniversary of Nakba, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank yesterday.
A Palestinian man gesturing during a protest marking the 70th anniversary of Nakba, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER • Thousands of Gaza residents turned out yesterday for the funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops a day earlier, while on the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli forces prepared to face the expected final day of a Palestinian protest campaign.

Monday's violence on the border, which took place as the US opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, was the bloodiest for Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza conflict.

The death toll rose to 61 overnight after an eight-month-old baby died from tear gas that her family said she inhaled at a protest camp on Monday. More than 2,700 people were injured, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, including some 1,300 from live ammunition.

Palestinian leaders have called Monday's events a massacre, and the Israeli tactic of using live fire against the protesters has drawn worldwide concern and condemnation.

Turkey yesterday expelled the Israeli ambassador in protest, while others including Belgium and Ireland summoned Israel's envoys.

Israel has said it is acting in self-defence. It said Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the coastal enclave, instigated the violence.

In Geneva, the United Nations rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Mr Michael Lynk, said Israel's use of force may amount to a war crime. Countries including Germany and Britain called for an independent probe into the violence.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley supported Israel at a UN Security Council meeting on the situation yesterday. Hamas "has been inciting violence for years, long before the United States decided to move our embassy" to Jerusalem, she said.

"No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has," said Ms Haley.

Yesterday morning, mourners marched through Gaza, waving Palestinian flags and calling for revenge. "With souls and blood we redeem you martyrs," they shouted.

Hundreds marched in the funeral of eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour, whose body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag. "Let her stay with me, it is too early for her to go," her mother cried, pressing the baby's body to her chest.

There were fears of further bloodshed as a six-week protest campaign was due to reach its climax.

May 15 is traditionally the day Palestinians mark the "Nakba", or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes in violence culminating in war between the newly created Jewish state and its Arab neighbours in 1948.

The protests, dubbed "The Great March of Return", began on March 30 and revived calls for refugees to have the right of return to their former lands, which now lie inside Israel.

More than two million people are crammed into the narrow Gaza Strip, more than two-thirds of them refugees. Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on the enclave, deepening economic hardship and raising humanitarian concerns.

Israel rejects any right of return, fearing that it would deprive the state of its Jewish majority.

Palestinian medical officials say 105 Gazans have now been killed since the start of the protests and nearly 11,000 people wounded, about 3,500 of them hit by live fire. Israeli officials dispute those numbers. No Israeli casualties have been reported.

Singapore called for restraint from both Israel and Palestine. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised Singaporeans against travelling to the Gaza Strip, Israel's borders with the Gaza Strip, as well as the West Bank.

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2018, with the headline 'Gazans bury dead after bloodiest day of border protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe