By Times of Israel—
The White House on Thursday called on Palestinians to engage in solely peaceful protests and stay at least 500 meters from Gaza’s border with Israel, on the eve of fresh demonstrations supported by Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers along the border.
While the UN issued a warning to Israel to use “extreme caution” in facing the mass protests, US President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt put the onus squarely on Palestinians.
Greenblatt said protesters “should remain outside the 500-meter buffer zone; and should not approach the border fence in any way or any location.”
He added, in a statement: “We condemn leaders and protestors who call for violence or who send protestors — including children — to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed. Instead, we call for a renewed focus by all parties on finding solutions to the dire humanitarian challenges facing Gazans.”
Earlier on Thursday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged Israel to exercise “extreme caution,” and to allow Palestinians to protest peacefully along the border.
“I particularly urge Israel to exercise extreme caution with the use of force in order to avoid casualties. Civilians must be able to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully,” Guterres said in a statement.
Thousands of Palestinians are expected to gather near the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel on Friday. Organizers said they will try to stop protesters hurling stones or rolling burning tires at Israeli troops, but Hamas leaders have declared in recent days that they plan “surprises” and that the ultimate goal of the marches is to remove the border and liberate Palestine.
“I reiterate my call on all concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further violence or place civilians in harm’s way, especially children,” said Guterres. “I call upon all parties on the ground to avoid confrontation and exercise maximum restraint.”
Guterres’s remarks came after a meeting with Arab ambassadors who urged him to launch an independent investigation into Palestinian deaths in clashes last Friday; the US earlier in the week vetoed a Security Council measure on the same issue.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinians’ UN ambassador, said after the meeting that Guterres’s response to their request was “positive,” and that the UN chief had expressed serious concern about civilian casualties.
Last Friday, over 30,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border, in what Israel has describes as a riot orchestrated by the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest.
There were discrepancies in Palestinian reports on the Gaza death toll from Friday. While Hamas claimed Monday that 18 had died, the official news agency of the Palestinian Authority had the number at 16. Israel has no official death toll figures.
On Thursday, the Hamas-run health ministry announced the death of an additional Palestinian protester who was hit by Israeli fire during border clashes last Friday.
IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said on Saturday that all those killed were engaged in violence. He said the army had faced “a violent, terrorist demonstration at six points” along the fence, and that Israeli soldiers had used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence.
The IDF then named and detailed 10 of the dead as members of terror groups including Hamas. (Hamas had earlier acknowledged five of them were its members.) Islamic Jihad later claimed an 11th.
Palestinians have pointed to a handful of filmed instances from the demonstration which appeared to show protesters being shot at while posing no threat to IDF troops. The army has claimed such videos are fabricated by Hamas.
The United States, which is Israel’s closest ally, blocked the Security Council from issuing a statement that would have authorized Guterres to conduct an independent investigation into last Friday’s events.
But on Thursday, Mansour indicated that the Arab countries would turn to the 193-member General Assembly or the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, both of which can authorize investigations and where there are no vetoes.
Tunisian Ambassador Mohammed Khaled Khiari said he expects the secretary-general and the international community to use their leverage to avoid a repetition of what he called Israel’s “disproportionate use and excessive use of force” in the future.
The European Union on Thursday also joined in urging Israel to exercise restraint toward Palestinian protesters, saying in a statement that it should use proportionality in defending its sovereignty.
“While recognizing the right to peaceful demonstration, the European Union expects that those leading the protests in Gaza avoid any incitement to violence, ensure that any protests, demonstrations and assemblies remain strictly non-violent, and do not exploit them for other means,” the statement said. “The European Union also expects Israel to respect the fundamental right to peaceful protest and proportionality in the use of force when defending its legitimate security interests.”
In response to the international calls, Israel’s Ambassador Danny Danon said that “Hamas and its affiliates exploited women and children as human shields and sent armed terrorists to battle” despite insistence from Palestinian leaders that the border protests are peaceful.
He urged the Security Council in a letter to “send a clear message to the Palestinian leadership insisting that it put an end to these riots that only serve to sow violence and instability.”
The Israeli Mission said Danon and other diplomats shared what the mission called “proof” of Hamas’ intentions to further incite Gaza residents to riot.
“They also expressed Israel’s intentions to act decisively against any attempts to threaten the country’s sovereignty,” the mission said.
Gaza leaders have planned a series of so-called Marches of Return culminating in a planned million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day — when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with Israel’s creation.
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said on Thursday that the Palestinians will continue their “struggle until they achieve their freedom and restore all their lands.” He said that the Palestinians’ “right to all of the soil of Palestine was absolute and clear.”
At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.
No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position has generally been that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.