Palestinian president declares national day of mourning

Simon Coveney backs UN call for inquiry, and urges restraint from ‘especially the Israeli forces’

A Palestinian protester hurls back a tear gas grenade fired by Israeli troops, during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday. Photograph: Abed al Hashlamoun/EPA

A Palestinian protester hurls back a tear gas grenade fired by Israeli troops, during clashes in the West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday. Photograph: Abed al Hashlamoun/EPA

 

Israeli troops fired warning shots towards Palestinian youths gathered at the Gaza-Israel border on Saturday, wounding 13 people, health officials said.

Tension remained high in the area a day after deadly violence broke out in one of the biggest Palestinian demonstrations there in years.

An Israeli military spokesman said he was checking the details of Saturday’s unrest.

On Friday at least 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces confronting protesters, some of whom the military said had opened fire, rolled burning tyres and hurled rocks and fire bombs toward troops across the border.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday a national day of mourning and a general strike was called across the occupied West Bank. Thousands in Gaza marched through the streets at funerals for those killed.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney expressed shock and concern at the developments in Gaza.

“The situation clearly remains extremely dangerous and I call on all involved, especially the Israeli forces, to show the utmost restraint,” he said.

“I also support the call from the UN Secretary General for an independent and transparent investigation into these incidents.”

Gaza hospitals, running low on blood and overstretched by the huge amount of wounded, were reeling after one of the enclave’s bloodiest days outside of open war in which Israeli soldiers shot 773 people with live ammunition, according to the ministry of health.

Fifteen of the wounded died, said doctor and ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra. “Most of the dead were aged between 17- and 35-years-old,” he said. “The injuries were on the upper part of the body.”

He added that the remainder of the wounded, some of whom were in a critical condition, had been shot with live ammunition. The violence erupted on Friday.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians had gathered along the fenced 65km (40-mile) frontier, where tents were erected for a planned six-week protest pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendents to what is now Israel. The Israeli military estimate was 30,000.

Families brought their children to the encampments just a few hundred metres from the Israeli security barrier with the Hamas-run enclave. But hundreds of Palestinian youths ignored calls from the organisers and the Israeli military to stay away from the frontier and violence broke out.

Palestinian ‘Catastrophe’

The protest, organised by Hamas and other Palestinian factions, is scheduled to culminate on May 15th, the day Palestinians commemorate what they call the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” when 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 an influx of Arabs that would wipe out its Jewish majority. It argues that refugees should resettle in a future state the Palestinians seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. Peace talks to that end have been frozen since 2014.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but still maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also keeps its border with Gaza largely closed.

Mr Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said: “The message of the Palestinian people is clear. The Palestinian land will always belong to its legitimate owners and the occupation will be removed.”

Israeli military spokesman Brig-Gen Ronen Manelis said Hamas was using the protests as a guise to launch attacks against Israel and ignite the area. He said violence would likely continue along the border until May 15th.

“We won’t let this turn into a ping-pong zone where they perpetrate a terrorist act and we respond with pinpoint action. If this continues we will have no choice but to respond inside the Gaza Strip,” said the officer.

The Gaza health ministry had said on Friday 16 people were killed, but revised the death toll to 15 on Saturday.

Mr Coveney said: “These events highlight the urgent need for a credible, internationally-led peace process that can address the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the pathway to two states, Israel and Palestine, living together in peace and security.

“Ireland and the EU are ready to play a role in developing that process, together with the US and others, and planning and investing for that brighter future.”

– Reuters/Guardian