Gaza border protests resume as U.N. calls for inquiry

Ashraf Sweilam and Fares Akram
Associated Press

Gaza City, Gaza Strip – Palestinians resumed their fiery protests at Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday as a U.N. human rights body criticized Israel for the “disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force” that killed at least 59 Palestinians earlier this week. Israel condemned the resolution by the U.N. Human Rights Council as biased.

Friday’s Gaza protests – the eighth in as many weeks – drew Israeli gunfire and tear gas, with at least 23 people wounded, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

Egypt, meanwhile, said it has opened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza for the entire Muslim holy month of Ramadan in an apparent effort to ease the crisis in the impoverished, densely populated territory.

Organizers of the protests say they are meant in large part to break the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt and to pressure Israel to ease its restrictions. Since the demonstrations began March 30, more than 110 Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,500 wounded by live fire, according to the Health Ministry. Palestinian officials say most of the casualties have been unarmed protesters. One Israeli soldier has been wounded.

The weekly protests peaked Monday when about 40,000 Gazans descended on the border. As in previous demonstrations, the protesters burned tires and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli troops, and tried to attack the border fence. Israeli snipers opened fire in response, killing 59 Palestinians and wounding hundreds in the deadliest day of cross-border violence in Gaza since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.

Friday’s protests began later than in recent weeks and drew a smaller turnout, apparently due to the Ramadan fast. Most of participants gathered in tent camps a safe distance from the border, but dozens still got close to the fence.

Earlier in the day, several injured Gaza residents with Jordanian citizenship, along with their relatives, were taken to Jordan for medical treatment at the request of the king of Jordan, the Israeli military said. The military did not say when they were wounded.

In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to set up a commission of inquiry to look into the Israeli actions.

Meeting in a special session, the council voted 29-2 with 14 abstentions to back a resolution that also condemned “the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians.”

The “independent, international commission of inquiry” mandated by the council will be asked to produce a final report in March 2019. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein backed calls for an international inquiry.