Netanyahu on Gaza Protesters: Israel Tried Non-lethal Methods, but Hamas Wants Them to Die

Speaking in London at end of four-day Europe tour, Netanyahu sends stark warning to Syria: Now that war is nearly over, Assad 'is no longer immune'

Palestinian protesters flee from tear gas canisters in the southern Gaza strip on June 1, 2018
SAID KHATIB/AFP

LONDON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border are not peaceful demonstrators, but members of Hamas. Netanyahu defended Israel's use of live fire to stop the protesters, saying "Hamas wants them to die."

In London, speaking at a Q&A session hosted by Policy Exchange, Netanyahu was asked why Israeli troops don't use non-lethal crowd control methods when faced with the protesters, to which he responded: "We tried water cannon, we tried tear gas and none worked." He added, however, that "given our record, we probably will figure out something. The last thing we want is violence [or] confrontation." When an audience member pressed Netanyahu on this issue, the premier said: We tried other ways, it doesn't work. Hamas wants them to die."

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Pedestrians walk past a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad hanging in a street in the Syrian capital Damascus on May 31, 2018
LOUAI BESHARA/AFP
Netanyahu at a Q&A session in London.

Netanyahu also addressed the war in Syria and the Iranian presence there, sending a stark warning to President Bashar Assad. "Assad has to consider this: when they waged this horrific civil war Israel did not intervene," he said. "Now the war is nearly over he invites Iran in? He is no longer immune. If he fires, we'll destroy his forces."

Netanyahu is at the end of a four-day tour in Europe in which he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Netanyahu asserted that the reason there is no peace between Israel and the Palestinians is that "they don't want to recognize a Jewish state." When asked about the two-state solution, Netanyahu said: "The Palestinians should have all the power to govern themselves, and none of the power to threaten us."

The issue of Palestinian casualties in Gaza also came up Wednesday in a meeting between Netanyahu and May. “We have been concerned about the loss of Palestinian lives,” May told the prime minister. Later, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Netanyahu that Israel should "carry out a transparent, independent inquiry into the loss of more than 120 Palestinian lives during the recent Gaza protests, as well as over 10,000 injuries."

On Tuesday, Macron also raised concerns over Palestinian loss of life, saying that the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem led to "people dying" and did not promote peace.

Netanyahu during a bilateral meeting with Theresa May at Number 10 Downing Street in London, June 6, 2018.
Bloomberg

Netanyahu was wrapping up Thursday the visit to Europe, which was aimed, in this own words, to "bring about an international agreement" about an exit of Iranian forces from Syria. On Wednesday, political sources in his entourage said that Merkel, Macron and May had agreed that Iranian forces should be removed from Syria and that the goal “had been significantly advanced.”

"Iran doesn't believe in a master race, it believes in a master faith," Netanyahu said on Thursday. "The Arabs understand they're in great peril, they look around and see Israel."