Israel rejects call for independent probe into Gaza deaths

Netanyahu accused of being a 'terrorist' as global condemnation mounts

A young Palestinian who was wounded at the Israel-Gaza border reacts at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City April 1, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
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Israel on Sunday rejected calls by rights groups for an independent probe into the killings of 16 Palestinians, as global condemnation grew.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini called for an investigation into the Israeli Defense Forces' use of live fire when violence broke out on the border with Gaza.

But overnight on Saturday, the US blocked a Security Council resolution blasting the Israeli response in Gaza and calling for an investigation.The US raised objections to the council's adoption of the statement after it was circulated on Friday.

Israel's military has faced questions from rights groups over its use of live fire on Friday while Palestinians have accused Israeli soldiers of targeting harmless protesters in what was the bloodiest day since the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the IDF soldiers for "guarding the country's borders," while Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the protests were not a "Woodstock festival".

The military also defended its forces' action and said they opened fire only when necessary against those throwing stones and firebombs or rolling tyres at soldiers.

Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday accused Mr Netanyahu of being a "terrorist" after the Israeli prime minister rejected Ankara's "moral lessons" over the clashes.

"Hey Netanyahu! You are occupier. And it is as an occupier that are you are on those lands. At the same time, you are a terrorist," Erdogan said in a televised speech in Adana, southern Turkey.

Earlier on Sunday Mr Netanyahu had hit back at Mr Erdogan following Turkey's criticism of what the president called Israel's "inhumane attack".

Mr Netanyahu tweeted: "the most moral army in the world will not be lectured to on morality from someone who for years has been bombing civilians indiscriminately".

"Apparently this is how they mark April 1 in Ankara," he added, referring to April Fool's Day. Prime Minister Netanyahu has previously labelled Mr Erdogan as someone who "bombs Kurdish villagers."


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Israel has continued to defend its actions, despite the widespread condemnation, saying there were attempts by protesters to damage the fence and infiltrate the country, while alleging there was also an attempted gun attack against soldiers along the border.

Amid mounting pressure from heads of state and rights organisation, a call for "reconciliation" in the Middle East was also made from Vatican leader Pope Francis on Sunday.

The pope made his appeal in his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica to tens of thousands of people in the flower-bedecked square below where he earlier celebrated mass.

"This Easter, may the light of the risen Christ illumine the consciences of all political and military leaders, so that a swift end may be brought to the carnage in course ... " he said.

He also appealed for an end to the "carnage" in Syria, calling for humanitarian aid to be allowed to enter, and for peace in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Pontiff appeared to refer directly to the Gaza violence last Friday, calling for "reconciliation for the Holy Land, also experiencing in these days the wounds of ongoing conflict that do not spare the defenceless."

The Gaza protest, which includes tents erected at various areas, is designed to last six weeks, ending around the time the United States moves is scheduled to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in mid-May.

The embassy move has deeply angered the Palestinians, who see Jerusalem's annexed eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Israel threatens military action in Gaza

Israel threatens military action in Gaza

But while tens of thousands attended Friday's start of the protests, demonstrations have since dwindled. Several hundred attended on Saturday, while on Sunday dozens milled around protest tents.

The protests may however again see large crowds after Friday's main Muslim prayers and for upcoming key dates.

May 14 will mark 70 years since the creation of Israel and is when the US is expected to open its new Jerusalem embassy.

The following day Palestinians will mark Nakba, or "catastrophe" - the commemoration of the more than 700,000 Palestinians who either fled or were expelled from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948.

Gaza's protest is in support of refugees, including those in the Palestinian enclave who want to return to their former homes in what is now officially the state of Israel.

In addition to the 16 Palestinians killed, more than 1,400 were wounded Friday, 758 of them by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, the health ministry in Gaza said.

No casualties were reported among Israelis.