UNITED NATIONS, May 16, (Agencies): The UN’s Middle East envoy said there was no justifying the killings of more than 50 Palestinians by Israeli fire at the Gaza border, and several Security Council members called for an independent investigation, but the council had no unified message Tuesday as the US said Israel had acted with “restraint.”
While some members said the UN’s most powerful body needed to speak as one to try to calm the volatile situation — and the Palestinian envoy implored, “When are you going to act?” — a proposed statement had stalled Monday after the US blocked it.
Still, Kuwait’s envoy said he planned to propose a council resolution on protecting Palestinian civilians. As the council met Tuesday, US Ambassador Nikki Haley laid blame for Monday’s violence on the Hamas extremists who rule Gaza and insisted it had nothing to do with the opening of a US embassy in contested Jerusalem, a move that infuriated Palestinians.
Saying that Hamas had incited people to lob flaming objects toward the Israeli side of the border fence and urged protest marchers to breach it, Haley asked: “Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border?” “No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has,” she added. Israel has said its troops were defending its border and accused Hamas militants of trying to attack under the cover of the protest. But Nikolai Mladenov, the UN’s Middle East envoy, said there was “no justification for the killing” and “no excuse.”
He called on Israel to use force proportionally and avoid using deadly force except as a last resort, a message echoed by the council’s European members. In a joint statement after the meeting, they said that Hamas needed to avoid “provocations” and violence, but that Israel’s military must “exercise maximum restraint” in using lethal force. Some of them and others, including China, called for an independent probe into the events at the Gaza border. “The death toll alone warrants such a comprehensive inquiry,” British Ambassador Karen Pierce said. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also proposed an investigation, after a deadly protest in Gaza in March.
Many council members also reemphasized their distance from the US decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem and recognize it as Israel’s capital. It was a break with the UN’s decade-long stance that Jerusalem’s final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who seek eastern Jerusalem as a future capital of their own.
The US says it has the right to decide where to put its embassy, and Haley said Tuesday the decision simply recognized “reality.” Kuwait, which requested Tuesday’s meeting, had tried to get council members to sign on Monday to a statement that would have demanded that all countries comply with a decades-old Security Council resolution that called on them not to have embassies in contested Jerusalem. The draft statement, obtained by The Associated Press, also expressed “outrage and sorrow” at the killings, sought an “independent and transparent investigation,” and called on all sides to exercise restraint.
The US blocked it. The State Department said Tuesday the draft “was too one-sided” and unacceptable to the US because it did not mention Hamas’ incitement of violence along the Gaza border. Nonetheless, Kuwaiti Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi said Tuesday he planned to draft a resolution on providing international protection to Palestinians. He didn’t immediately give details of his proposal.
Tuesday’s meeting came amid growing diplomatic fallout from the violence and the US embassy move. South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel, Turkey temporarily expelled Israel’s ambassador, Israel asked the Turkish consul general in Jerusalem to leave, and the Palestinian envoy to Washington was recalled to Ramallah.
The demonstration in Gaza Monday culminated a weekslong Palestinian campaign against a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. Protesters set tires ablaze, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air, and hurled firebombs and stones toward Israeli soldiers across the border. The Israeli military said Hamas tried to carry out bombing and shooting attacks under the cover of the protests and released video of protesters ripping away parts of the barbed-wire border fence.