Close to 60 Palestinians were killed on Monday during violent protests on the Gaza border with Israel, along with reportedly 13 children who have been killed over the past several weeks.
The United Nations, along with several Western states and world leaders, have blamed The Israel Defense Forces for the killings, arguing that they have used excessive force.
Israel has defended its actions, however, saying that it is responding to violence its soldiers are facing, and has also accused militant group Hamas of driving the protests and using children as human shields.
The U.S. Administration of President Donald Trump has firmly stood behind Israel and rejected a U.N. resolution seeking to investigate its ally. It has also defended its decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, with the official ceremony having taken place on Monday.
Much like the rest of the world, Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories are also divided on the issue.
Here are six important things to know about the long-standing conflict and the recent escalation of violence.
1. 13 Children Dead
At least 13 children have been killed (six of them on Monday) in Gaza since the violent protests began several weeks ago.
This is according to some sources, such as the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, though Israel disputes these numbers, and disputes who is to blame for these tragic deaths.
Palestinian mourners vowed revenge for the dead children, Reuters reported on Tuesday, wrapping the bodies of some, such as 8-month-old Leila al-Ghandour, in their national flag.
“Let her stay with me, it is too early for her to go,” cried the child’s mother, revealing that the girl died from inhaling tear gas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS News in an interview that protesters are being paid to try and cross the border and are using children as human shields by bringing them to hostile areas.
“They’re pushing civilians, women, children into the line of fire with the view of getting casualties,” Netanyahu argued. “We try to minimize casualties. They’re trying to incur casualties in order to put pressure on Israel, which is horrible.”
Asked about the Palestinian casualties, including at least 60 on Monday, he stated:
“You try all sorts of means. You try non-lethal means and they don’t work. So you’re left with bad choices. It’s a bad deal. You know, you try and you go for below the knee and sometimes it doesn’t work. And unfortunately, these things are avoidable. If Hamas had not pushed them there, then nothing would happen.”
International charity Save the Children said that it was “horrified” by news of children been killed, and pointed to Palestinian reports that another 220 youngsters have been injured.
“The killing of children cannot be justified. We urgently call on all parties to take active steps to ensure children are not hurt and to protect children in accordance with the Geneva conventions, relevant international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” the group urged in a statement on Wednesday.
“We also call on all parties to show restraint and urge all protests to remain peaceful, while calling on all sides to tackle the long-term causes of this conflict and promote dignity and security for both Israelis and Palestinians,” it added.
2. What Is Hamas and What Is Their Role?
As BBC News points out, Hamas is the largest of several Palestinian militant Islamist groups, and in 2005 won political elections in Gaza, where it has its headquarters.
It presents itself as a resistance movement looking to purge Israel from land it considers belongs to Palestine, though Israel and the U.S. have branded it a terrorist organization, blaming it for decades of attacks and bloodshed.
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs keeps statistics of the various suicide bombing attacks it says the group has carried out, including the constant rocket and mortar shell fire Israeli border communities are subjected to.
Israel said that the past two years have seen a significant increase in rocket fire, positioning that while it is often not lethal, it has a “devastating effect on the daily life and sense of security of the 200,000 residents of the western Negev.”
Hamas has disputed reports that it is forcing its supporters to sacrifice their lives, though as The New York Times reported, it has responded to the latest violence by urging thousands of worshipers to join the protests.
Hamas speakers have blamed Trump and the U.S. government for sparking further chaos by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“America is the greatest Satan,” said Sheikh Marwan Abu Rass, a cleric.
“Now we are heading to Jerusalem with millions of martyrs. We may die, but Palestine will live,” he added, echoing rhetoric that is often repeated from the Islamist group.
3. Are the Gaza Protests Really Peaceful?
The nature of the several weeks of protests along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel has also been disputed. Hamas claims the protesters are peaceful, but several Israeli and international reports have insisted that they have been anything but.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that Israel’s military has been carrying out “massacres” of unarmed civilians, and Senior Hamas Official Mahmoud Al-Zahhar argued that it has employed a “peaceful resistance bolstered by a military force and by security agencies, and enjoying tremendous popular support.”
BBC reported that close to 40,000 people took part in a protest campaign dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which Hamas insisted was in support of Palestinian refugees wishing to return to land they were forced out of.
But some reports say that several of the protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers, and have flown petrol-soaked kites intended to ignite fires on the Israeli territory.
Still, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Tuesday that the actions of the Palestinians do not warrant Israeli forces using live ammunition on the protesters.
“An attempt to approach or crossing or damaging the fence do not amount to a threat to life or serious injury and are not sufficient grounds for the use of live ammunition,” Colville argued.
Israel has positioned, however, that its military’s response to the violence on the Gaza border is “in keeping with Israeli and international law.”
Netanyahu said on Monday that “Hamas intends to destroy Israel and sends thousands to breach the border fence in order to achieve this goal.” He explained that everything its military is doing is “with determination to protect our sovereignty and citizens.”
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, international spokesman and head of Social Media of the IDF, said in April that soldiers use live fire “only when absolutely necessary and when there is clear threat to infrastructure or to Israeli soldiers.”
“If there is, then we use snipers who fire specifically and under very clear guidance by commanders,” he said.
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Source: Christian Post