Gaza protests shrink in size; funerals held for protesters killed
Hundreds of Palestinians marched Saturday in Gaza along the border with Israel, as funerals were held for protesters killed the day before in confrontations with Israeli forces.
The protests were much smaller than on Friday, when thousands of Palestinians massed along the border in what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration called the March of Return. Israeli forces fired upon marchers it said participated in violence, killing 17 people and injuring more than 1,400 others in the deadliest day in Gaza since the 2014 war.
On Saturday, a CNN crew near Khan Younis in southern Gaza saw protesters in a crowd of several hundred throwing rocks and aiming slingshots toward Israeli forces positioned in the distance. A few tires were set on fire and rolled toward the soldiers.
Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas and the CNN team heard shots fired. It was not clear what type of weapons or ammunition the soldiers were using.
The CNN crew saw several injured people taken away by ambulance for medical treatment.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said Saturday that 10 people were treated for moderate injuries in hospitals.
East of the Al Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, only small groups were protesting. Gaza residents said all six protest sites had small numbers of demonstrators.
Burying the dead
Ten funerals took place across Gaza on Saturday for those killed the day before, including members of Hamas, the political and military group that governs the territory.
The Hamas-run Al Aqsa TV channel broadcast images of one of those funerals. Earlier in the day, al Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, released names and photos of five people identified as members of the group who were killed.
The Israeli military released a statement on Saturday saying, “At least 10 known terrorists with documented terror backgrounds” were killed. Their list included alleged members of Hamas’ military wing, as well as other armed groups. Five of the names on the IDF list matched those on al Qassam Brigades’ list.
Sides exchange blame
Israelis and Palestinians blamed each other for the violence on Friday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday commended Israeli troops in a tweet, saying: “All our praise for our soldiers who are guarding the borders of the state … Israel acts with vigor and determination in order to protect its sovereignty and the safety of its citizens.”
David Keyes, spokesman for Netanyahu, told CNN on Saturday that Hamas organized the protests. He said Israeli forces responded defensively because the protesters tried “to storm into Israel, to overrun Israel, thousands of people to have them storm in. Bombs were placed, rockets were shot, guns were shot at Israelis. Israel did what any country around the world would have done. It defended its citizens.”
Mustafa Barghouti, founder of the Palestinian National Initiative, not affiliated with Hamas, told CNN on Saturday that the protesters were peaceful, likening their actions to followers of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
“They did not use guns,” he said, referring to the Palestinian protesters. “They did not use weapons. They were just trying to express their views in a peaceful manner and unfortunately they were shot by the Israeli army.”
He also said protesters came from all over Gaza and were not just members of Hamas.
Weeks of protests planned
Friday’s protest was the largest protest seen in Gaza in years. It was held on Palestinian Land Day, which commemorates the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land in Israel in 1976.
It was also the first day of the March of Return protests. The ultimate goal, Palestinians say, is to cross the border fence and return to lands that became Israel seven decades ago.
Tent cities have been set up to host the marches, which are expected to continue through May 15 when Palestinians mark the anniversary of the “Nakba” (“Catastrophe”), the day after Israel declared independence in 1948.
Roughly 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes during the subsequent Arab-Israeli war, which lasted for nearly a year. Today, approximately 1.3 million Palestinians living in Gaza are registered refugees, according to the United Nations.
The United States plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem around May 14, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence, increasing the potential for further protests and clashes.
Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital, and to many Palestinians, the change is viewed as a further erosion of hope for a two-state solution.
The US blocked a United Nations Security Council statement Saturday morning, which called for an independent inquiry into Friday’s violence in Gaza that left at least 17 Palestinians dead and more than 1,400 injured, two UN diplomats tell CNN.
Following Friday’s escalated confrontations, Kuwait drafted a statement asking the Security Council to take action.
It is unclear if other countries would have also objected, UN diplomats tell CNN. If one country objects, then the statement cannot be adopted.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had called for an independent inquiry into Friday’s violence.
Guterres made his comments late Friday before an emergency UN Security Council meeting to address the issue. UN spokesman Farhan Haq relayed his statement to the media.
“This tragedy underlines the urgency of revitalizing the peace process aiming at creating the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations for a peaceful solution that will allow Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side peacefully and in security,” Guterres was reported as saying.
In an article on its website, the United Nations reported that Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, the deputy UN political affairs chief, told Friday’s Security Council meeting that “around 30,000 people participated in and around the march at various locations in Gaza.”