UN Security Council paralysed after 59 Gaza protesters are shot dead while US ambassador applauds Israel’s ‘restraint’

As the United Nations Security Council met on Tuesday, violence flared again on the Israel-Gaza border, with two more Palestinians killed. On Monday, 59 Palestinians were killed and 2,700 injured 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 May, 2018, 12:50am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2018, 7:40pm

The UN Security Council found itself paralysed on Tuesday in the wake of mass violence on the Israel-Gaza border that saw 59 Palestinian protesters shot dead and 2,700 injured  by Israeli soldiers, with Arab nations denouncing the violence and the US praising Israel’s “restraint”.

The session was called by Kuwait, the only Arab nation with a seat on the council, after the violence, which overshadowed Monday’s opening of the new United States embassy in Jerusalem, a move that has infuriated Palestinians. 

But as the talks continued, violence flared once more on the Israel-Gaza border, leading to at least two more Palestinians being killed.

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Despite widespread denunciation of the killings, which Israel has justified as being necessary to protect its soldiers, the Security Council found itself unable to come to a resolution on Tuesday.

After the meeting, Kuwait said it would circulate a draft resolution on “providing international protection to the Palestinian people”. Kuwaiti Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi has maintained that Israel was violating international law and that the council needed to step in.

Otaibi said the draft would be circulated “most probably tomorrow”. Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour said negotiations would then begin to try to get the resolution adopted.

As the United Nations met and the families of those killed on Monday buried the dead, there was a recurrence of violence.

The protests were more muted than those on Monday, likely because many of the protesters were in mourning. Israeli drones rained tear gas grenades onto protesters, some of whom used slingshots to fire stones at soldiers.

In the Gaza Strip itself, mourners marched, waving Palestinian flags and calling for revenge, shouting: “With souls and blood we redeem you martyrs.” 

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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. The family said Leila died of tear gas inhalation.

On the Israeli side of the border, sharpshooters took up positions to stop any attempted breach of the fence. Tanks were also deployed.

Also on Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Council announced that it would hold a special session on Friday to debate the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory – the first such meeting since the council considered the Myanmar situation in 2017.

“The special session is being convened per an official request submitted this evening by Palestine and the United Arab Emirates, on behalf of the Arab Group of States, which has been supported by 26 States thus far,” the UN human rights office said in an email. 

During Tuesday’s Security Council meeting, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that no member “would act with more restraint than Israel has” after the violence on Monday.

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“In fact, the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained,” Haley said.

She also said that the violence had nothing to do with the opening of a US embassy in contested Jerusalem on Monday, after its move from Tel Aviv, and that violence had been incited there for years by the leader of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza.

“Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday,” she added. “The United States deplores the loss of human life.”

She left the chamber after making her remarks.

Britain, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden – the five European nations on the council – joined Belgium, Germany and Italy in a statement calling on Israel to “refrain from excessive use of force” and on Hamas “to avoid provocation” and ensure that protests remain non violent. 

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, briefed the Security Council by video link from Jerusalem. 

“This cycle of violence in Gaza needs to end,” he said. “I have repeatedly called on all to exercise restraint, for all necessary steps to avoid an escalation of violence and for all incidents to be fully investigated.” 

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also spoke up during a visit to the UN headquarters, saying that the only way out of the stand-off was “a two state solution allowing Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace and security together.” 

Guterres said it was “a terrible tragedy” and added that “this only shows how important it is to have a political solution” to the violence.

Israel lays the blame squarely with Hamas, accusing Gaza’s Islamist rulers of war crimes. Its ambassador, Danny Danon, urged the Security Council to condemn the faction, saying that “only then will justice be served, “and that Israel regretted “every casualty”. 

But the Palestinian envoy implored the council: “How many Palestinians have to die before you take action? Why are we the exception? Why are you paralysed?”

The Security Council meeting began with a moment of silence for the slain Palestinians, who died in the bloodiest day there since a 2014 war. Israel said its troops were defending its border.

Poland’s ambassador, Joanna Wronecka, called for the gesture of remembrance in her role as current council president. In addition to those killed, more than 2,700 people were hurt, among them 1,360 by gunshots.

Among the dead were eight children under the age of 16.

The Palestinian envoy wants the council to condemn the killings. Israel’s ambassador is calling for condemnation of Hamas.

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In its defence, Israel’s military has said that at least 24 of those killed were militants with a “documented terror background” and were members of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group.

It said that in one incident, eight Hamas operatives attempted to breach the border fence using Palestinian civilians as cover, throwing grenades and shooting at troops who had rushed to the scene, and that its soldiers returned fire and killed the militants.

The military said its forces prevented a “significant” attack, but did not specify how many of those it killed were armed. It released photos of grenades and a gun it said were from the scene.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on America’s CBS News on Tuesday to accuse Hamas of “pushing civilians – women, children – into the line of fire with a view of getting casualties”.

“We’ve tried to minimise casualties, they are trying to incur casualties in order to put pressure on Israel which is horrible,” he said. “These things are avoidable. If Hamas had not pushed them there nothing would happen. Hamas holds responsibility for doing this and they’re deliberately doing it.”

“You try other means, you try all sort of means, you try non-lethal means and they don’t work so you are left with bad choices, it’s a bad deal,” he said. “You go for below the knee and sometimes it doesn’t work, unfortunately.”

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In response to the violence, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for restraint on both sides, saying: “Palestinians have the right to protest, but these protests must be peaceful. We are concerned that extremist elements are seeking to hijack legitimate protests to further their own objectives.

“While we do not question the right of Israel to defend its borders, the use of live fire and the resulting loss of life is deeply troubling. We urge Israel to show restraint.”

May also said, “There is an urgent need to establish the facts of what happened yesterday through an independent and transparent investigation, including why such a volume of live fire was used and what role Hamas played in events.”

Also on Tuesday, Geman Chancellor Angela Merkel told Netanyahu by phone that “Germany understands Israel’s security needs.” She added that the right to peaceful protest and assembly in Gaza shouldn’t be abused to provoke unrest, her office said.

Earlier, Germany said it supported calls for an independent investigation into the killings, with government spokesman Steffen Seibert saying the violence “concerns us greatly, and it’s terrible that so many people lost their lives, including minors”.

He also supported the right to peaceful protest, but blamed Hamas for firing up tensions, saying: “Hamas is trying to escalate the violence. That is cynical.”

Meanwhile, Turkey and Israel have taken part in tit-for-tat expulsions of one-another’s envoys, with the Turkish government first ordering the Israeli ambassador to return to his country temporarily, and then the Israeli ambassador sending the Turkish consul away from Jerusalem. Turkey had already recalled its ambassador.

On Twitter, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Israel as an “apartheid state that has occupied a defenceless people’s lands for 60+ yrs in violation of UN resolutions.”

The country has also offered to open up an “air corridor” to fly injured protesters to Turkey for treatment, saying that Palestine – which has been crippled by bombings and closed borders over the last several years – does not have the appropriate resources.