EU asks whether Israel used ‘proportionate’ force in Gaza

Palestinians protesters during clashes with Israeli toops near the border with Israel in the east of Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, 6 April 2018. [Mohammed Saber/EPA/EFE]

The EU raised questions Saturday (7 April) about whether Israeli troops engaged in “proportionate use of force” in the latest border clashes that left nine Palestinians dead in the Gaza Strip.

The European Union’s diplomatic arm also called for clarification of Israeli military reports that Palestinians stoned and firebombed their positions and tried to cross the fence into the Jewish state on Friday.

It stressed that Israeli live fire killed at least nine Palestinians, including a minor and a Palestinian journalist wearing a “press” jacket, and hurt hundreds more.

“This raises serious questions about the proportionate use of force which must be addressed,” the European External Action Service said in a statement.

“Reports by the Israeli Defense Forces about throwing of stones and firebombs against their positions and attempts to cross the fence into Israel must also be clarified,” it added.

It called for enabling medical equipment to be delivered quickly to those who need it and for “medical deferrals to hospitals outside Gaza for humanitarian reasons.”

The EU also called for avoiding any further clashes and loss of life.

The nine dead Palestinians, including the journalist, were buried in Gaza on Saturday.

They were among thousands of protesters who approached the border fence around Gaza for a second Friday in a row, burning tyres and hurling stones at Israeli forces, who responded with tear gas and live ammunition.

In addition to the nine dead, at least 491 were wounded by Israeli gunfire, the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave said.

Gaza’s 70 years of woe

Gaza is a coastal strip of land that lay on ancient trading and maritime routes along the Mediterranean shore. Held by the Ottoman Empire until 1917, it passed from British to Egyptian to Israeli military rule over the last century and is now a fenced-in enclave inhabited by two million Palestinians.

As British colonial rule came to an end in Palestine in the late 1940s, violence intensified between Jews and Arabs, culminating in war between the newly created State of Israel and its Arab neighbors in May 1948.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians took refuge in Gaza after fleeing or being driven from their homes. The invading Egyptian army had seized a narrow coastal strip 25 miles (40 km) long from the Sinai to just south of Ashkelon. The influx of refugees saw Gaza’s population triple to around 200,000.

Israel captured the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. An Israeli census that year put Gaza’s population at 394,000, at least 60 percent of them refugees. It found that 65 percent of working-age men in the 145 sq. mile (375 sq. km) territory were employed in Gaza before the 1967 conflict, mainly in agriculture, fishing, industry and quarries.

Twenty years after the 1967 war, Palestinians launched their first intifada, or uprising. It began in December 1987 after a traffic accident in which an Israeli truck crashed into a vehicle carrying Palestinian workers in Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp, killing four. Stone-throwing protests, strikes and shutdowns followed.

Seizing the angry mood, the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood created an armed Palestinian branch – Hamas – with its power base in Gaza. Hamas, dedicated to Israel’s destruction and restoration of Islamic rule in what it saw as occupied Palestine, became a rival to Yasser Arafat’s secular Fatah party that led the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Israel and the Palestinians signed an historic peace accord in 1993 that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority. Under the interim deal, Palestinians were first given limited control in Gaza, and Jericho in the West Bank. Arafat returned to Gaza after decades in exile.

In 2000, Israeli-Palestinian relations sank to a low with the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada. It ushered in a period of suicide bombings and shooting attacks by Palestinians, and Israeli air strikes, demolitions, no-go zones and curfews.

In 2006, Hamas scored a surprise victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Much of the international community cut aid to the Palestinians in Hamas-controlled areas because they regard Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Gaza’s economy has suffered repeatedly over decades in the cycle of conflict, attack and retaliation between Israel and Palestinian militant groups, from the 1970s to recent years.

Israel and Gaza militants led by Hamas fought three wars since 2008 which resulted in widespread destruction and the killing of thousands of Palestinians and about 100 Israelis.

The worst fighting was in 2014. Hamas and other groups launched rockets at heartland cities in Israel. Israel carried out air strikes and artillery bombardment that devastated neighborhoods in Gaza. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

In 2017, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas launched a series of economic sanctions on Hamas in a bid to force the group to relinquish control of Gaza. He orchestrated a reduction of electricity for Gaza and slashed salaries of 60,000 Palestinian Authority employees there by 30%, weakening buying power.

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