JERUSALEM • Israel's Defence Minister has rejected calls for an inquiry into the killing of 15 Palestinians by the military during a Palestinian demonstration that turned violent at the Gaza-Israel border.
Hamas, the dominant Palestinian group in Gaza, said five of the dead were members of its armed wing. Israel said eight of the 15 belonged to Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and the West, and that two others came from other militant factions.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an independent investigation into last Friday's bloodshed.
His appeal was echoed by the European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Amnesty International, as well as Ms Tamar Zandberg, leader of Israel's left-wing opposition Meretz party.
"Israeli soldiers did what was necessary. I think all our soldiers deserve a medal," Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio yesterday.
"As for a commission of inquiry - there won't be one."
Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered last Friday along the fenced 65km frontier, where tents had been erected for a planned six-week protest pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.
SOLDIERS DID RIGHT
Israeli soldiers did what was necessary. I think all our soldiers deserve a medal. As for a commission of inquiry - there won't be one.
MR AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN, Israel's Defence Minister.
But hundreds ignored calls from organisers and the Israeli military to stay away from the frontier.
The military said some of those who were shot had fired at soldiers, rolled burning tyres and hurled rocks and fire bombs towards the border. Israeli and Palestinian leaders blamed each other for the 15 deaths.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel was "fully responsible" for killing his countrymen, and a video appearing to show an unarmed teenager being gunned down by Israeli sniper fire was circulated on Palestinian media.
The Israeli army argued that Gazan militants were using civilian protesters as cover as they fired at soldiers and tried to lay explosives near the border fence.
"The use of live ammunition should, in particular, be part of an independent and transparent investigation," Ms Mogherini said in a statement last Saturday.
"While Israel has the right to protect its borders, the use of force must be proportionate at all times."
The protest is scheduled to culminate on May 15, when Palestinians mark the Nakba, or "catastrophe", during which hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes in 1948, when the state of Israel was created.
Israel has long ruled out any right of return, fearing it would lose its Jewish majority.
Last Saturday, Israeli troops using live ammunition and rubber bullets shot and wounded about 70 Palestinians among demonstrators at the border, Palestinian officials said. Witnesses said stones were thrown at the soldiers.
Israel says Hamas is using the protests to deflect frustration among Gaza's two million inhabitants over deepening economic hardship. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but, citing security concerns, still tightly controls its land and sea borders. Egypt also keeps its Gaza frontier largely shut.
The violence prompted a draft United Nations Security Council statement urging restraint and calling for an investigation into the clashes on the Gaza-Israel border, but this was blocked by the United States last Saturday, diplomats said.
Kuwait, which represents Arab countries on the council, presented the proposed statement, which also reaffirmed "the right to peaceful protest".
The draft statement was circulated to the council last Friday, but the US later raised objections and said it did not support its adoption, a UN Security Council diplomat told Agence France-Presse.
US President Donald Trump has harshly criticised the Palestinians in the past, but the State Department said only that it was "deeply saddened" by the loss of life and urged steps to lower tensions.
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE