Israel defense minister vows tough response to Gaza protests
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s defense minister said Tuesday that the military will not change its tough response to Hamas-led mass protests near Gaza’s border with Israel, warning that those who approach the border will endanger their lives.
Avigdor Lieberman spoke near Gaza, where 18 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire Friday, the first day of what Hamas says will be six weeks of intermittent border protests against a stifling border blockade of the territory.
Lieberman’s comments raised the possibility of more bloodshed this Friday, when another large mass protest is expected.
Also on Tuesday, the international group Human Rights Watch accused Lieberman and other senior Israeli officials of unlawfully calling for the use of live fire against Palestinian protesters who posed no imminent threat to life.
Last Friday, thousands of Palestinians marched near the border fence between Israel and Gaza, many gathering around tent encampments set up several hundred meters (yards) from the frontier. Smaller groups moved closer to the fence, throwing stones, hurling firebombs or burning tires. Israeli troops were lined up on the other side of the fence, including snipers perched on high earth embankments overlooking Gaza.
Palestinian health officials have said 18 Palestinians were killed that day, including 13 involved in the mass protest, making it the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 cross-border war between Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas.
More than 750 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, according to Gaza health officials. The Israeli military has claimed, without elaborating, that it believes the figure was overblown and that dozens, at most, were injured by live rounds.
Israeli officials have said soldiers in the border area had orders to target the “main instigators” and those who approach the border.
Human Rights Watch said Israel has presented no evidence that rock-throwing or other violence seriously threatened the soldiers on the other side of the fence.
“The high number of deaths and injuries was the foreseeable consequence of granting soldiers leeway to use lethal force outside of life-threatening situations in violation of international norms, coupled with the longstanding culture of impunity within the Israeli army for serious abuses,” the group said.
Lieberman has rejected international calls for an independent investigation.
On Tuesday, he warned Hamas against what he called “continued provocation.”
“We have established clear ground rules and we do not intend to change them,” Lieberman said during a visit to an Israeli communal farm near Gaza. “Anyone who approaches the border is putting his life in danger.”