Netanyahu on Deadly Gaza Border Clashes: 'Israel Acting Firmly to Defend Itself'

Defense chief Lieberman slams 'chorus of hypocrites' calling for independent investigation into Gaza border deaths

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks on March 27, 2018.
Ofer Vaknin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the events on Israel's border with Gaza for the first time Saturday evening, a day after at least 15 Palestinians were killed in clashes with the Israeli army during mass rallies along the border fence.

"My respect goes to the Israeli soldiers who are guarding Israel's borders, allowing Israelis to celebrate the holiday [of Passover] in peace," Netanyahu said in a statement. "Israel will act firmly and decisively to protect its sovereignty and the security of its citizens," Netanyahu vowed.

The Foreign Ministry also issued a statement responding to the clashes, saying, "The border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip separates a sovereign state and a terrorist organization."

>> Gaza carnage is a victory for Hamas – and a propaganda nightmare for Israel ■ With riots and live fire, Gaza just went 25 years back in time  >>

The statement added: "The fence separates an army that uses force in self-defense and in a focused and proportionate manner, and Hamas, an organization that sanctifies murder and death, that for years – yesterday included - has been intent on harming millions of Israelis."

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to calls from the Israeli left and the international community to investigate the deaths in Gaza.

"I don’t understand the chorus of hypocrites that want a commission of inquiry. They are confused and thought Hamas organized the Woodstock festival yesterday and we need to hand out flowers to them,” Lieberman wrote on Twitter.

The new chairwoman of the left-wing Israeli party Meretz, MK Tamar Zandberg, called earlier Saturday to investigate the Friday's events, during which 15 Palestinians were killed and 758 injured.

"The harsh results and filed reports require an independent Israeli examination, including examining the rules of engagement and the military and diplomatic preparations for the events,” said Zandberg. 

MK Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, placed the blame for what happened Friday on the Palestinians. He said the first question any investigation needs to ask is “what would have happened if instead of investing in terrorism and death, the Palestinians had invested over the past 12 years in building the economy, civil life, education and the health system.”

Earlier Saturday, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for an independent and transparent investigation into the Israeli military's use of live fire during the mass rallies. 

"While Israel has the right to protect its borders, the use of force must be proportionate at all times," Mogherini said in a statement released in response to Friday's events.

Mogherini's words echoed those of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who called on Friday night for an independent and transparent probe into the deaths and injuries along the border.