Israeli forces have killed 16 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,400 people as protests erupted at the Gaza-Israel border. Thousands of Palestinians have marched towards the border, burning tires and throwing petrol bombs and rocks at soldiers across the Israeli border. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has fired live ammunition as well as rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd of protesters as they entered what, according to Israel, is a ‘closed military zone.’
It is estimated around 20,000 Palestinians have gathered at five main points along the border to commence the six-week long protest named the “Great March of Return,” demanding the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. While the planned protest has been declared by Hamas – the organizing group – as peaceful, IDF has disputed this as a guise to cover up a terror plot. A commander of the IDF, Maj Gen Eyal Zamir, has said security forces “are identifying attempts to carry out terror attacks under the camouflage of riots.” Similarly, Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, has referred to the protests as a “violent terror-gathering”.
On the ground, there are videos of unarmed Palestinians being shot in the back as they run away from the border, as well as a confronting video of a 16-year old boy being shot at by Israeli forces. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday a National Day of Mourning in response to the incident, which allowed thousands of Palestinians to attended funerals and mourn the dead and the Gaza Health Ministry to get to work looking after the injured. The flood of wounded people to hospitals in the Gaza strip places a strain on a medical system that is already under-resourced and lacking in sufficient medical supplies.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting in New York in response to the conflict, and condemned the actions of both sides. There is a genuine fear among the group that the conflict will escalate. UN Secretary General António Guterres has called for an independent investigation into the deaths of the protesters, and Human Rights Watch has issued a statement declaring the numbers of dead and wounded “shocking.”
The Palestinian protest is expected to climax on May 15, the day that Israel will celebrate its 70th anniversary of Independence. If nothing is done beforehand, and Israel is nervous that the protesters will breach Israeli territory, it is more than likely that more conflict will ensue, and more lives will be lost. Actions need to be taken prior in order to reduce the possibility of further causalities and chaos in the region. Talks should be encouraged between Palestine and Israel to reach some sort of understanding before the situation spirals too far out of control. The Israeli security forces should be ordered not to fire on protesters with live ammunition, and be held accountable for the 16 Palestinian deaths.
Palestinians are often forgotten about in the global discussion on refugees, but there remains a deep-rooted sentiment amongst the population that they will not rest until they are permitted to return to their homeland. As perhaps one of the most complex and longstanding issues of our time, the way forward is not simple but must start with open dialogue between the parties.
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