Palestinians hold day of mourning after at least 60 killed in Gaza protests
GAZA — Palestinians were marking a day of mourning Tuesday after Israeli troops killed dozens during protests in Gaza over the controversial opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
Dozens of funerals took place across Gaza after 60 Palestinians were killed in demonstrations, according to figures provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Among the dead were eight children, including eight-month-old Laila Anwar Ghandour. The health ministry said the baby was asphyxiated by tear gas.
Ghandour’s funeral was held on Tuesday morning. Her mother and father cradled her body, wrapped in a white funeral shroud, before her father walked to the graveyard to bury her. Relatives said Laila was sitting in her mother’s lap when the infant inhaled the tear gas.
“They were sitting on the side. (Israeli troops) fired tear gas haphazardly. The baby girl couldn’t take it and she died,” said the girl’s father, Anwar Ghandour.
“We’re nearly done with our lives, but these poor kids have their whole lives ahead of them. What have they done wrong?” said Um Khalid al Ashram, a middle-aged Palestinian woman who was near the funeral procession.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said Monday was the deadliest day in Gaza since the 2014 war. In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called for three days of mourning, saying Monday’s events were “one of the most ferocious days our people have seen.”
Shops in Gaza were closed and people could be heard talking about the dead. Images of the dead and short eulogies flooded Palestinian social media. CNN journalists on the ground said it appeared that nearly every neighborhood in Gaza had lost someone in Monday’s demonstrations.
Tuesday’s funerals came on a day Palestinians call “The Catastrophe” or “Nakba,” in memory of the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were driven from or left their homes during the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli war.
Israel’s military says protesters were trying to storm the border fence between Israel and Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday’s confrontations were “the determined action of the IDF and the security forces prevented a breach into Israel’s borders.”
Calm on the borders
At the protest encampments that dot Gaza’s border with Israel, the numbers of demonstrators have dwindled. Mosques and political factions that called on Palestinians to take to the border over the weekend were largely quiet on Tuesday.
Demonstrators also appeared skeptical that protests would continue. Several said they felt abandoned by political parties and protest organizers.
“It’s enough death. Those who died it’s enough,” said Mahmoud Yasser Mohammed, a demonstrator who stayed at the camps over night.
“All the youth are just coming down to take selfies. There is no point. We cut the fence and opened the way and everyone was too scared to cross and the Israelis started firing on us,” said another demonstrator Sayed Abu Nada.
Over 2,700 people suffered injuries, nearly half of them by live fire, according to the health ministry. Doctors told CNN they operated on many young men with gunshot wounds.
International condemnation has poured in over Israel’s use of force against unarmed Palestinian protesters.
Doctors Without Borders called on the Israeli army to stop using deadly force against demonstrators, saying their actions were “unacceptable and inhuman.”
“This bloodbath is the continuation of the Israeli army’s policy during the last seven weeks: shooting with live ammunition at demonstrators, on the assumption that anyone approaching the separation fence is a legitimate target,” Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, the group’s representative in Gaza, said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron also condemned “the violence of the Israeli forces against protesters.”
In a phone call with Abbas, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “condemned the attacks and wished Allah’s mercy to all martyrs,” according to the official Anadolu news agency. Turkey is recalling its ambassadors to Washington and Tel Aviv for consultations, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres was “profoundly alarmed” by the violence in Gaza and urged Israeli forces to “exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire,” his deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
A proposed UN Security Council press statement, put forward by Kuwait, was blocked by the US, according to a UN diplomat.
The draft statement, seen by CNN, included language expressing “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest.”
It also reaffirmed UN resolutions on the status of Jerusalem, saying that recent events had “no legal effect” under international law. The statement was withdrawn once the US indicate that it would block it, a UN diplomat said.
‘Retaliation is imminent’
Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip, has vowed “retaliation” for the death of the protesters.
“Retaliation is imminent,” political bureau member Khalil Al-Hayya told reporters late on Monday.
“The shedding of our people’s blood today stains the faces of those normalizing [relations] with the Israeli Occupation and bargaining on the Palestinian cause with shame,” Al-Hayya said.
Addressing the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, he said: “the American administration bears all the consequences of the implementation of this unjust decision.”
Separately, the former head of the Hamas Political Bureau Khaled Meshaal called for Arab and international solidarity in a statement on Tuesday. “Our people, who are [rising] up in Gaza and the West Bank, call on our Arab and Islamic nation, its people, its leaders, scientists and friends in the world to stand with us at this historic moment.”
The deaths came after 35,000 protesters gathered at the border of Gaza and Israeli territory Monday to object to the embassy move, continuing the “Great March of Return” demonstrations. The protests have been taking place since March, in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel and expulsion of thousands of Palestinians.
Most of the dead were killed by Israeli fire near the border, after troops used tear gas and live ammunition to try and disperse the crowd. Israeli drones also dropped tear gas in an effort to disperse the protesters.
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) accused the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, of “leading a terrorist operation” and inciting the protesters to conduct what Israel described as terror attacks.
The IDF alleged some protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails, and burned tires. It also claimed to have foiled an attack by three armed Palestinians near Rafah, close to the border with Egypt, during “a particularly violent demonstration.”
Many of the injured Palestinians were young men who were hit by live ammunition, according to British-Palestinian Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitteh, who spoke to CNN from a hospital run by a British charity in Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza.
Monday’s death toll was the biggest number of fatalities suffered in one day since the latest round of demonstrations began more than six weeks ago. The previous high was 17, which happened on the day the protests started on March 30.