LOS ANGELES – An impartial and transparent investigation must be conducted into the deaths and injuries of Palestinian protesters after deadly skirmishes erupted on the Gaza border Friday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
“He also appeals to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties and in particular any measures that could place civilians in harm’s way,” a spokesperson for Guterres added following an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council concluded.
At least 17 Palestinians were killed and an estimated 1,400 hundred injured by Israeli security forces confronting one of the largest Palestinian demonstrations along the Israel-Gaza border in recent years, Gaza medical officials said.
Israel attempted to have the meeting postponed until after the Passover holiday, which began at sundown Friday evening, but was unsuccessful and Israeli officials refused to attend the proceedings.
“While Jews around the world gathered with their family at the Seder table to celebrate the Passover holiday, the Palestinians sunk to a new deceitful low so that they could use the UN to spread lies about Israel,” Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said soon after the deliberations ended.
The UNSC emergency meeting was initiated by Kuwait, which requested the discussion be held behind closed doors, a move that essentially froze out Israeli and Palestinian representatives from participating in the deliberations.
The protests were part of the annual “Land Day” march, which commemorates the deaths of six Arab citizens of Israel killed by Israeli security forces during protests over government land confiscations in northern Israel in 1976.
Hours before the UN chief issued his statement, Danon slammed the Palestinian terror organization Hamas for stoking unrest among its civilian population and inciting against Israel.
“As we warned, the so-called peace march today turned out to be a well-organized and violent terror-gathering funded by Hamas,” Danon said in a statement released just hours before the United Nations Security Council is set to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the violence.
“The sole purpose of these provocations is to threaten Israel and sow unrest. Today we saw yet another example of Hamas exploiting civilians as they sent children to the fence with Israel intentionally endangering their lives. The international community must not be deceived by Hamas’ attempts to conceal their crimes,” Danon added.
The IDF said that thousands of protesters threw stones and set tires on fire during the demonstration, using the sheer size of the crowd as cover to carry out attacks.
The Washington Post reported that in one instance, armed Palestinian gunmen fired towards soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League condemned Hamas for the violent altercations on the Gaza-Israel border, pointing the finger at the terror organization for marshalling the anger abundant inside the coastal enclave towards Israel as a way to mask their own failure in leadership.
“Hamas is once again cynically exploiting its civilian population to draw attention away from its own flawed leadership and once again with tragically deadly consequences,” the ADL wrote in a message posted to Twitter.
“Their call for ‘return’ is a call for the end of the State of Israel,” the organization added.
Hamas said that the demonstration on Friday is just the first in a six-week campaign of daily protests along the 40-mile border to demand the “Right of Return” of Palestinian refugees back into what is now Israel. The IDF said that an estimated 30,000 people participated in the event.
The demonstrations come as ordinary Palestinians face mounting hardships inside the Gaza strip, including rising unemployment, crippling poverty and daily blackouts that last for hours, according to The Washington Post.
Human Rights Watch decried what it called the “shocking number of Palestinians killed and hurt” by IDF forces, adding that the incident brought into the fore concerns about Israel’s use of deadly force in Palestinian demonstrations.
“The shocking number of Palestinians killed and hurt today by soldiers firing across the Gaza fence raises serious questions about Israel’s longstanding use of live ammunition to police demonstrations,” HRW said in a statement.
“Israeli allegations of violence by some protesters do not change the fact that using lethal force is banned by international law except to meet imminent threat to life,” the organization added.
The military said its troops had used live fire only against people trying to sabotage the border security fence, some of them rolling burning tires and throwing rocks, and that at least two of the dead were Hamas operatives.
Witnesses said the military had deployed a drone over at least one location to drop tear gas.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that Israel was responsible for the violence and declared Saturday a national day of mourning.