Israel and the United States came under harsh, global criticism Tuesday as both countries defended Israel’s use of live ammunition against Palestinians protesting at the Gaza border. The Palestinian death toll from the shootings on Monday rose to at least 60, while the United Nations put the overall tally in six weeks of escalating tension at 112.
“Lethal force may only be used as a measure of last, not first, resort and only when there is an immediate threat to life or serious injury,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva. An attempt to approach or cross a border fence was “not sufficient grounds,” he said.
Thousands have been wounded, Colville said. “Enough is enough.”
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that Israel had acted with restraint. She dismissed suggestions that the violence was related to the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and said that Hamas, backed by Iran, had urged protesters to burst through the fence separating Israel from the Gaza enclave.
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“I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council: Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border?” Haley said. “No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”
But the actions of Israeli troops, and the U.S. refusal even to express regret for the loss of life, has left both countries isolated amid growing condemnations that Israel used excessive force against the protesters, many of whom were unarmed.
Crowds at the border were thin Tuesday. Gunfire rang out over Gaza City, as rounds were fired during funeral processions for Monday’s dead. Residents planned further protests as they prepared to mark the anniversary of Israel’s founding, known to Palestinians as the “Nakba,” or “Catastrophe.” More than two-thirds of Gaza’s population of nearly 2 million is descended from refugees who were displaced at the time of Israel’s creation 70 years ago.
Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas – considered a terrorist group by the Israel, the United States and most, if not all, Western countries – was elected by the population there and took over in 2007.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the misery endured by Gazans, who have the world’s highest unemployment rate and are largely cut off from the rest of the world, is entirely the fault of Hamas.
“We have seen how Hamas continues to incite violence,” she said.
Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the Middle East criticized the Gaza violence and the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv. Turkey’s government ordered the Israeli ambassador in Ankara to leave the country, and recalled its ambassadors in Washington and Tel Aviv for consultations.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traded insults on Twitter. A Turkish government minister and spokesman, Bekir Bozdag, said Palestinian outrage had been fueled by the embassy move and that “the blood of innocent Palestinians is on the hands of the United States.”
In Dublin, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney summoned the Israeli ambassador to express Ireland’s “outrage” over the Gaza shootings. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called on Israel to show “utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life.”
Mogherini was meeting in Brussels with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, and their Iranian counterpart, to discuss how they can keep the Iranian nuclear deal alive following U.S. withdrawal. In remarks to reporters, she and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the embassy move was a violation of international law and Security Council resolutions.
The Monday violence, in which no Israelis were injured, contrasted sharply with the festive ceremony at the new embassy in Jerusalem, just 40 miles away. At the U.N. meeting, called by Kuwait to discuss the Gaza situation, both U.S. allies and adversaries added their opposition to the embassy move to their remarks on the violence.
“The unilateral decision by the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem does nothing but inflame spirits,” said Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia’s envoy. “The United States, which supports the occupying power, has become an obstacle to peace. It has become part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
Karen Pierce, the British ambassador, expressed support for an investigation into Monday’s killings, then stated London’s position on the U.S. Embassy’s opening.
“Our position on the status of Jerusalem and moving the American embassy is well known,” she said. “The status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states.”
The envoys from China, Sweden and the Netherlands also went out of their way to reiterate their government’s position that Jerusalem’s status should be left to negotiations and their intention to keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.
Haley, speaking at the beginning of the session, said the location of the U.S. Embassy has no bearing on whatever Israelis and Palestinians might negotiate and described the opening of the facility as “a cause for celebration.”
“It reflects the will of the American people,” she said. “It reflects our sovereign right to decide the location of our embassy. Importantly, moving our embassy to Jerusalem also reflects the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel . . . . Recognizing this reality makes real peace more achievable, not less.”
Haley and Danny Danon, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, accused Iran of helping foment the violent and deadly clashes.
“We do have indications of Iranian funding into Hamas,” said Danon, talking to reporters before the Security Council meeting.
“We know the riots are well organized, well funded and well orchestrated by Hamas,” he added. “Iran is supporting the riots in Gaza.”
Mansour al-Otaibi, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United Nations, said he would circulate another draft resolution Wednesday calling for the United Nations to provide protection for civilians in Gaza. He said it would be short of a peacekeeping force, however.
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The Washington Post’s Morris reported from Gaza City. Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem and Kareem Fahim in Istanbul contributed to this report.
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Video: Thousands of Palestinians began protesting May 14, the same day the Trump administration hailed the movement of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. A day later, more than 60 protesters had died.(Joyce Lee/The Washington Post)