World

Israel minister says no Gaza inquiry while US blocks UN statement

Defence minister praises soldiers after 16 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,400 wounded in protest

Israel's Defence Minister yesterday rejected calls for an inquiry into the killing of 16 Palestinians by the military during a Palestinian demonstration that turned violent on Friday at the Gaza-Israel border.

More than 1,400 were wounded, 758 of them by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, according to the GazaHealth Ministry.

Hamas, the dominant Palestinian group in Gaza, said five of the dead were members of its armed wing. Israel said eight of the 15 belonged to Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and the West, and two others came from other militant factions.

INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an independent investigation into Friday's bloodshed.

His appeal was echoed by Ms Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Amnesty International, and Ms Tamar Zandberg, leader of Israel's left-wing opposition, Meretz party.

"Israeli soldiers did what was necessary. I think all our soldiers deserve a medal," Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio.

"As for a commission of inquiry - there won't be one."

On Saturday, the US blocked a draft UN Security Council statement that in addition to calling for an investigation, also urged restraint on the Gaza-Israel border, diplomats said.

Kuwait, which represents Arab countries on the council, presented the proposed statement, which called for an "independent and transparent investigation" of the violence.

The draft council statement also expressed "grave concern at the situation at the border" .

And it reaffirmed "the right to peaceful protest" and expressed the council's "sorrow at the loss of innocent Palestinian lives".

The draft statement was circulated to the council on Friday, but on Saturday, the US said it did not support its adoption, a Security Council diplomat told AFP.

The proposed statement also called "for respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including protection of civilians," according to the draft seen by AFP.

Council members "called upon all sides to exercise restraint and prevent a further escalation", the draft said.

The proposed statement stressed the need to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution.

FRONTIER

Tens of thousands of Palestinians had gathered last Friday along the fenced 65km frontier, where tents had been erected for a planned six-week protest pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.

But hundreds ignored calls from organisers and the Israeli military to stay away from the frontier.

The military said some of those who were shot had fired at soldiers, rolled burning tyres and hurled rocks and fire bombs towards the border.

"The use of live ammunition should, in particular, be part of an independent and transparent investigation," Ms Mogherini said in a statement.

"While Israel has the right to protect its borders, the use of force must be proportionate at all times."

- AFP, REUTERS

WORLD