UN Chief Calls for Independent Investigation Into Palestinian Deaths at Gaza Border

UN security council convenes without Israel's ambassador ■ Palestinian premier joins call to investigate Israel's actions ■ Israeli Arab NGO blasts Israel for 'unlwaful' use of snipers

Protesters run for cover during clashes with Israeli security forces in a demonstration commemorating near Gaza's border with Israel on March 30, 2018.
SAID KHATIB/AFP

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent and transparent investigation into the deaths and injuries along Gaza's border with Israel, his spokesman said in a statement Friday. 

15 Palestinians were killed earlier on Friday in clashes along the Gaza-Israel border as 30,000 Gazans participated in the "March of Return," a series of mass protests slated to continue for weeks. 

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Organizers of the march said they plan to return to the border fence Saturday in memory of the killed.

The UN Security Council convened Friday night to discuss the events on the Gaza border, despite the United States' and Israel's request to postpone deliberations for Saturday, due to Passover holiday eve. No Israeli envoy was present during discussions.

Guterres said 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," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq. 

A senior United Nations official told the Security Council on Friday that the situation in Gaza "might deteriorate in the coming days" and called for civilians, particularly children, not be targeted. 

"Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law. Lethal force should only be used as a last resort with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities," UN deputy political affairs chief Taye-Brook Zerihoun said.

An Israeli Arab human rights organization condemned Israel's action on the Gaza border as 'unlawful' on Saturday, alerting Attorney General Avichay Mendelblit that Israel was in breach of international law.

In a statement released Saturday, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Adalah, said Israel's use of snipers against protestors along the border was illegal.

The Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also called the international community to intervene and examine Israel's actions, saying it must "investigate Israel for the crimes it has committed yesterday against the Palestinian people."

The chairman of Meretz, an Israeli left-wing party, joined calls for a thorough investigation of Friday's incidents, saying it was an "Israeli duty and interest in order to prevent another violent bout" in the strip.

"The painful results and video evidence neccesitate an independent Israeli probe, including a re-examination of open fire protocol ... the safety and well being of humans on both sides of the border rely on each other, and Israel has the obligation to show act with restraint and according to the law." The statement concluded by invoking for a discussion of humanitarian concessions in the strip.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 1,416 people were wounded in the clashes: 758 from live fire, 148 from rubber-tipped bullets, 422 from inhaling tear gas and 88 from other causes.

<<Gaza mass protests force Israeli military to maneuver between two contradictory goals | Analysis 

In a separate incident, the Israeli military exchanged fire with two armed Palestinians who approached the border fence and opened fire toward Israeli soldiers. The IDF targeted three Hamas positions with tank fire and Israel Air Force fighter jets in response.

The Israeli military declared the area along the border a closed military zone, responding with live ammunition and other riot control methods in hopes of dispersing the protests. The army has also fired artillery at Hamas and Islamic Jihad positions in the Strip.

The "March of Return" marks Land Day, a day Palestinians worldwide have commemorated since 1976, when Israeli security forces shot dead six Israeli Arabs who were protesting the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel to build Jewish communities. About 100 others were wounded and hundreds were arrested during the protest on March 30 of that year.

Backed by the Hamas government in Gaza, Palestinians have established several tent camps housing thousands near the border. Thousands of Palestinians will camp out near the fence as an extended protest until Nakba Day in mid-May, with weekly demonstrations on Fridays.

Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir said that Hamas was attempting to carry out attacks under the guise of demonstrations, adding that "We recommend to civilians not to come near [the fence], and warn Hamas that it is responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip with all its consequences."

Egypt, Jordan and the Arab League condemned Israel for what they termed excessive force against demonstrators. The committee organizing the march appealed to the United Nations and Arab League to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate what they call Israel's excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators. They added that demonstrations will continue on Saturday in memory of those killed on Friday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that Saturday will be a day of mourning in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian casualties, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry and local media, have so far been identified as: Mahmoud Saudi Rachmi, 33, killed by gunfire in eastern Gaza; Jihad Faranh, 34, killed in eastern Gaza; Mohammed Kamal al-Nagar, 25, killed in Jabalia; Mahmoud Abu Maomar, 27, killed during clashes in Rafah; Iyad Abed Al-el; Ahmed Ibrahim Odeh, 19, killed by gunfire in the northern Gaza Strip; Abed al-Qader al-Khawajri, 42; and Abdullah Abu Hajir, 25.

Haaretz reported that a seven-year-old girl was sent to the border fence by Hamas. According to the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, the military made sure she was safely returned to her parents.

In a statement, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said "The IDF deployed large numbers of troops in advance and is prepared to act in different scenarios. We will not allow a violation of Israel’s sovereignty or an attack on the infrastructures defending the fence.”