By Times of Israel Staff

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, lashed out at Hamas Thursday, accusing the Palestinian terror group of “using children as cannon fodder,” following the deaths of dozens of people in clashes with Israeli forces during protests along with border in the Gaza Strip.

“Anyone who truly cares about children in Gaza should insist that Hamas immediately stop using children as cannon fodder in its conflict with Israel,” Haley told a UN Security Council meeting convened to discuss the situation in the Middle East.

Ahead of the meeting, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem urged the Security Council to protect Palestinians taking part in the demonstrations on the border.

In an unusual move, the group’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, wrote to UN Secretary General António Guterres, saying: “Preventing further loss of life is a responsibility that must be shouldered without delay.”

Tens of thousands of Gazans have taken part in Friday protests along the border with Israel, supported by the Hamas, which rules the coastal enclave. Hamas leaders say the ultimate aim of the demonstrations, dubbed “March of Return,” is to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.

B’Tselem gave a list of names and ages of 35 Palestinians it said were killed by Israel during the demonstrations.

The group described the victims as “unarmed” and said their deaths were “the predictable outcome of the manifestly illegal rules of engagement implemented during the demonstrations, of ordering soldiers to use lethal gunfire against unarmed demonstrators who pose no mortal danger.”

B’Tselem singled out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot as being primarily responsible for the deaths.

The group said that any Israeli investigation into the deaths was likely to be “a whitewash,” and would be solely to “forestall and prevent investigations by international bodies.”

The letter ended with a plea to the United Nations to “Do all in its power – and its responsibility – in order to protect Palestinian lives and uphold international norms.”

Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained for acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.

Hamas also said it considers the weekly “March of Return” rallies — in which protesters have burned tires, hurled firebombs and rocks at Israeli troops, flown flaming kites over the border, and attempted to sabotage the security fence — a pivot toward nonviolence.

The Israeli military, in contrast, has said Hamas is using the protests as cover to damage the border fence and prepare to infiltrate and carry out attacks. There is considerable concern among Israelis of a mass breach, in which Gazans would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc.

The UN’s special envoy to the region, Nickolay Mladenov, told the council that both Israel and Hamas had to do more to prevent the deaths.

“There has also been an increasing number of dangerous incidents at the fence, including the planting of improvised explosive devices — at least one of which has detonated — the throwing of Molotov cocktails, and attempts to breach the fence,” he said.

“Israel must calibrate its use of force and minimize the use of live fire. Lethal force should be used only as a last resort,” he continued. “Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations must keep protesters away from the Gaza fence and prevent all violent actions and provocations.

The Israeli army says it mainly uses less-lethal means, as well as pinpoint fire against chief instigators. It says its sharpshooters target only those who attack IDF soldiers with stones and Molotov cocktails, actively try to damage the security fence, or attempt to place improvised explosive devices along the security fence that could later be used in attacks against Israeli patrols.

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, also accused Hamas of using innocents as “human shields.”

“Throughout the riots of the past month, Hamas has used innocent Palestinian women and children as human shields, while they cowered behind in safety,” he said. “The terrorists are hiding while allowing, even hoping, for their people to die. This is evil in its purest form.”

He told the international body that Israel does everything in its power to minimize civilian deaths, but that the main goal of the army was to defend country.

“Israel has an obligation to protect our citizens and we will do so while minimizing civilian casualties to the other side but let me be clear: Israel will never apologize for defending our country,” he said. “It is Hamas that is fully responsible for every Palestinian injury and death that has resulted from these incidents.”