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Nakba day: Israel faces international condemnation over two-day ‘massacre’ at Gaza border

Turkey and South Africa recall their ambassadors to Israel after worst violence against Palestinians in years 

Tuesday 15 May 2018 18:12 BST
Israeli drones fire tear gas as clashes erupt at Gaza-Israel border protests

Israel is facing almost universal international condemnation after two days of violence on the border with Gaza which left 59 unarmed Palestinians dead after being shot by Israeli troops.

Palestinian families buried their dead on Tuesday morning, including an eight-month-old baby who reportedly died after inhaling tear gas. Three days of mourning have been declared for what the Palestinian Authority described as a “massacre” of its people.

The toll of 58 dead and around 2,700 injured – many shot in the legs – was the steep price paid by those who protested at the security fence which separates the blockaded Palestinian enclave from Israel on Monday. One 51-year-old died after being shot on Tuesday.

Israeli troops were ordered to use live fire on the 40,000 people who protested both the US’s embassy move to Jerusalem and the Nakba, or “catastrophe” – the Palestinian anniversary of Israel’s founding.

Although the air force dropped leaflets warning people their lives would be in danger if they protested at the border, and said the protests were being used by Gaza-based militant group Hamas as cover for attacks, the resulting heavy casualties have been strongly criticised by the international community.

South Africa and Turkey recalled their ambassadors to the country, and Belgium has summoned Israeli ambassador Simona Frankel over her comments that all those killed were “terrorists”.

Turkey also took the step of expelling the Israeli ambassador to Ankara for an undetermined length of time.

The UK has called on the UN to launch an investigation into why “such a volume” of live ammunition was used against unarmed Palestinian protesters, but stopped short of linking the deaths of protesters to Washington’s decision to move its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The UN Security Council will meet later on Tuesday to discuss the violence, though it is not clear what action might come out of the session.

The killings betray both Gaza’s desperation after 11 years of a crippling blockade and the Israeli military’s heavy-handed tactics, human rights organisations said.

A Palestinian woman flashes the V for victory sign during protest near the border fence on 15 May (AFP/Getty)

“The policy of Israeli authorities to fire irrespective of whether there is an immediate threat to life on Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza, caged in for a decade and under occupation for half a century, has resulted in a bloodbath anyone could have foreseen,” Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, said in a statement.

Tuesday’s protests did not reach anywhere near the size or intensity of Monday’s.

Haaretz reported that Hamas, the militant organisation in control of the Gaza Strip, had sent messages to Israeli officials suggesting it may tone down the planned protests for the Nakba day itself.

Alistair Burt says an investigation should be launched into why live fire was used at Gaza border

Officials from US president Donald Trump’s administration, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, have also drawn international criticism for celebrating the opening of the new US embassy in the contested city of Jerusalem while just 40 miles away Gazans were dying at the border as they protested the move.

The White House has explicitly blamed Hamas for the violence.

“Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response and as the secretary of state [Mike Pompeo] said, Israel has a right to defend itself,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters on Monday night.

Also on Monday, the US blocked the UN Security Council from adopting a statement calling for an independent probe into Monday’s violence.

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