Five questions on the Gaza border protests

Five questions on the Gaza border protests

 

GAZA CITY,. More protests are planned along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel yesterday, a day after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians during demonstrations and clashes.

Here are five questions on the protests that have taken place since March 30:

What are the protests about? 

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been protesting since March 30 for what they call the right of return.

During the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes.

Palestinians refer to this exodus at the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, and commemorate it with protests on May 15 of each year.

They and their descendants, who now number about five million, want to return to their lands in what is currently Israel.

Israel says any such return would mean the end of the country as a Jewish state.

A 1948 UN resolution supporting the right of return has never been implemented.

Monday’s protest was also about the move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Palestinians see the eastern part of Jerusalem as their capital while Israel considers the entire city its capital.

Demonstrations are also taking place to protest deteriorating conditions in the blockaded Gaza Strip, where poverty is rife, unemployment high and infrastructure such as electricity severely lacking.

What has happened so far?

The protests peak on Fridays, with the numbers of demonstrators ranging from thousands to tens of thousands.

Small groups have approached the border fence, throwing stones, burning tyres and hurling Molotov cocktails. Some have tried to break through the fence.

Israel has vowed to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence and attacks. It accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, of using the protests as cover to seek to carry out violence.

A total of 114 Palestinians have been killed since March 30 while only one Israeli soldiers has been reported wounded.

The United Nations and leading rights groups say protesters are being shot while posing no real threat to soldiers.

Monday was the bloodiest days since the 2014 Gaza war — and since the start of the protests — with 60 Palestinians, including a baby who died of tear gas inhalation, killed by Israeli forces.

It also drew the largest crowds as tens of thousands gathered near the border, with the majority not approaching the heavily guarded fence.

Israel said those who did used explosive devices and firebombs, while shots were fired at soldiers.

Soldiers, including dozens of snipers, fired tear gas and live ammunition, while there were also tank and air strikes against Hamas posts.

More than 2,500 were injured on Monday, including 12 journalists, with the Gaza health ministry saying 54 of those wounded are in critical condition.

What has been the international reaction?

After Monday’s violence, a range of countries expressed concern over Israel’s use of live fire, with some harshly condemning it.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s office said it was alarmed by the violence, adding “Israel security forces must exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire”.

It also called on Hamas to prevent violence by protesters.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged “utmost restraint,” while French President Emmanuel Macron “condemned the violence of the Israeli armed forces against protesters”.

Britain’s minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, acknowledged “Israel’s right to defend its borders” but said “the large volume of live fire is extremely concerning”.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to both Israel and the United States, while South Africa brought its ambassador back from Tel Aviv.

Ireland summoned the Israeli ambassador to express its “shock and dismay at the level of death and injury”.

The United States said the responsibility for the killings lied “squarely with Hamas”.

Washington also blocked the adoption of a UN Security Council statement that would have called for an independent probe into the violence.

What is the situation now?

Gaza hospitals are over-crowded and in desperate need of blood and medicine.

At Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest, some patients are being treated in a makeshift tent erected outside the main building due to lack of space.

Egypt has offered to treat some of the wounded, but getting them there is logistically challenging.

What happens next?In addition to yesterday’s protests, dozens of funerals will also take place, while a general strike has been called in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Hamas says it wants the protests to continue after yesterday, but it is unclear if they will be sustained.

Later in the week — either tomorrow or Friday — the holy month of Ramadan, when the majority of Gaza’s Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, is due to begin.

— AFP