Gazans bury dead after bloodiest day of border protests

Palestinian protesters carry a wounded woman during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Tuesday, on May 15, 2018. (AP)
Updated 15 May 2018

Gazans bury dead after bloodiest day of border protests

  • A six-week campaign of border protests dubbed “The Great March of Return” has revived calls for refugees to have the right of return to their former lands
  • In Geneva, the UN human rights office condemned what it called the “appalling deadly violence” by Israeli forces

GAZA: Palestinians rallied in Gaza on Tuesday for the funerals of scores of people killed by Israeli troops a day earlier, while on the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli forces took up positions to deal with 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 60 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 2,200 Palestinians were also injured by gunfire or tear gas.

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.

Israel has said it is acting in self-defense to defend its borders and communities. Its main ally the US has backed that stance, with both saying that Hamas, the group that rules the coastal enclave, instigated the violence.

There were fears of further bloodshed as Palestinians planned a further protest to mark the “Nakba,” or “Catastrophe.”

That is the day Palestinians lament the creation of Israel in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes in violence culminating in war between the newly created Jewish state and its Arab neighbors in 1948.

A six-week campaign of border protests dubbed “The Great March of Return” has revived calls for refugees to have the right of return to their former lands, which now lie inside Israel.

It was unclear whether large crowds would turn up at the border for the climax to the campaign after the heavy fatalities suffered on Monday.

Palestinian medical officials say that 104 Gazans have now died since the start of the protests on March 30. No Israeli casualties have been reported.

Israeli troops were deployed along the border again on Tuesday. The area was relatively quiet early in the day, with many Gazans at the funerals. Protesters are expected to go to the border later.

In Geneva, the UN human rights office condemned what it called the “appalling deadly violence” by Israeli forces and said it was extremely worried about what might happen later.

UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Israel had a right to defend its borders according to international law, but lethal force must only be used a last resort, and was not justified by Palestinians approaching the Gaza fence.

More than 2 million people are crammed into the narrow Gaza Strip, which is blockaded by Egypt and Israel and suffering a humanitarian crisis.

At the Gaza hospital where the body of eight-month-old Laila Al-Ghandour was being prepared for burial, her grandmother said the child was at one of the tented protest encampments that have been set up a few hundred yards inside the border.

“We were at the tent camp east of Gaza when the Israelis fired lots of tear gas,” Heyam Omar said.

“Suddenly my son cried at me that Lolo was weeping and screaming. I took her further away. When we got back home, the baby stopped crying and I thought she was asleep. I took her to the children’s hospital and the doctor told me she was martyred (dead).”

Most of the protesters stay around the tent camps, but groups of youths have ventured closer to the no-go zone along the fence, risking live fire from Israeli troops to roll burning tires and throw stones.

Some have flown kites carrying containers of petrol that have spread fires on the Israeli side.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered a general strike across the Palestinian Territories on Tuesday and three days of national mourning.

Monday’s protests were fired by the opening ceremony for the new US Embassy in Jerusalem following its relocation from Tel Aviv. The move fulfilled a pledge by US President Donald Trump, who in December recognized the contested city as the Israeli capital.

Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel regards all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that is not recognized internationally, as its “eternal and indivisible capital.”

Most countries say the status of Jerusalem —  a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians —  should be determined in a final peace settlement and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

Netanyhau praised Trump’s decisions but Palestinians have said the US can no longer serve as an honest broker in any peace process. Talks aimed a finding a two-state solution to the conflict have been frozen since 2014.

Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the Gaza violence. Hamas denied instigating it but the White House backed Netanyahu.

“The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response,” White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters.

Trump, in a recorded message on Monday, said he remained committed to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He was represented at the embassy ceremony by his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, US envoy to the Middle East.

The Trump administration says it has nearly completed a new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan but is undecided on how and when to roll it out.

The US on Monday blocked a Kuwait-drafted UN Security Council statement that would have expressed “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians” and called for an independent investigation, UN diplomats said.


Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate's withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

Updated 17 November 2019

Hariri and Aoun trade blame as prime minister candidate's withdrawal plunges Lebanon further into crisis

  • Withdrawal of Mohammad Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms
  • Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister blasted the party of the country’s president on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate to replace him plunged the country into further turmoil.

Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a "harmonious" government with broad political support.

Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon's fractious sectarian-based parties since Saad Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.

The withdrawal of Safadi narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.

Reflecting the brittle political climate, President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) accused Hariri of undermining Safadi's bid in order to keep the job for himself.

"Saad (al-Hariri) is delaying things with the goal of burning all the names and emerging as the saviour," said a source familiar with the FPM's view.

A statement by Hariri's office rejected the FPM assertion as an irresponsible attempt to "score points" despite Lebanon's "major national crisis".

Faced by the worst financial strains since a 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged last year.

The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and US dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.

Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shiite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.

Lebanon's prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.

Protesters who have filled the streets since Oct. 17 hit out at the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.

"We are in a deadlock now. I don't know when it will move again. It is not easy," said a senior political source. "The financial situation doesn't tolerate any delay."

A second political source described efforts to form a new government as "back to square one."

Safadi's withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support. Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah and Amal, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier while including both technocrats and politicians in a new cabinet.

But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.

Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon's debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to 'CCC/C' from 'B-/B'.

Lebanon's bank staff said they would continue a nationwide strike on Monday that has kept banks shut. The strike is over safety fears as depositors demand access to their money. Union members are set to meet on Monday to discuss a security plan to keep branches safe.