Palestinians mark ‘Nakba’; Gazans bury the dead; Death toll hits 60

NEW YORK: Kuwait reiterated yesterday that East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, calling on the international community to recognize Palestine as an independent state, and the city as the capital of Palestine. This came in a speech delivered by Kuwait’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi during the UN Security Council’s session held upon a call by Kuwait to discuss the latest developments in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Al-Otaibi condemned in the strongest terms the massacre committed by the Israeli occupation authorities on Monday that killed more than 60 Palestinians and wounded thousands others, increasing the number of martyrs since March 30, the Land Day, to dozens. Last Monday, the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the move which was highly rejected and condemned by many countries, including Arab and Muslim states, all over the world.

The move angered Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank that organized peaceful protests in rejection of the US step. However, Israeli troops used excessive power against unarmed Palestinian protesters, killing dozens of them and injuring thousands others. Al-Otaibi stressed that Israel repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, human rights law as well as relevant UNSC resolutions as the Security Council did not take an action against it.

He expressed regret that the Security Council was unable to approve the draft proposed by Kuwait yesterday that along with other demands, calls for conducting a transparent and independent international investigation into the massacres committed against the unarmed Palestinians. If the Security Council continues to be unable to take an action on setting up an investigation mechanism, we support any move either by the UN General Assembly or by the Human Rights Council so as to ensure holding accountable those responsible for such acts, he said.

The Kuwaiti envoy called on the UN to intensify its efforts and endeavors so as to ensure that these violations will not be repeated, through submitting proposals in order to avoid using violence and excessive power by the Israeli occupation authorities. Kuwait backs taking measures aiming to contribute to providing international protection for the Palestinian people, he noted.

“We are concerned about policies, measures and actions taken unilaterally by Israel, the occupying power, which aims at changing the reality on the occupied territory, topped with the continuation and the expansion of settlement activities which are illegal measures and constitute a flagrant violation of Security Council resolutions and international law, mainly the 2334, he explained. The relocation of some diplomatic missions to Jerusalem is an explicit violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions, mainly 478,476, he stated.

Such steps, which run counter to international law, contribute to undermining efforts of achieving peace and deepening tension as well as threatening to plunge the region into more violence, chaos and instability, he said. Kuwait supported Palestinian request regarding the activation of some international mechanisms like the quartet through the expansion of its members to include other regional partners to be under the umbrella of the UN for backing the peace process, he said.

Al-Otaibi reiterated Kuwait’s support for all legal and peaceful steps taken by Palestine on national and international levels to consolidate its sovereignty over Al-Quds Al-Sharif and the occupied territories. He affirmed that the desired peace should begin with ending the Israeli occupation lasted for 51 years, in line with the resolutions of international legitimacy, the land-for-peace principle, the road map and the Arab peace initiative adopted by all Arab countries at Beirut Summit in 2002.

He went to say that the initiative calls for the withdrawal of Israel from all occupied Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territories to the line of June 4, 1967 borders. It also ensures addressing all issues of the final status, leading to help the Palestinian people obtain all their legitimate political rights, including the right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, he mentioned. The Kuwaiti representative pointed out that the Palestinian people want the United Nations, especially the Security Council, to maintain international peace and security.

Meanwhile, thousands of Gaza residents turned out yesterday for the funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops a day earlier, while on the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli forces prepared to face the expected final day of a Palestinian protest campaign. Monday’s violence on the border, which took place as the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, was the bloodiest for Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza conflict.

The death toll rose to 60 overnight after an eight-month-old baby died from tear gas that her family said she inhaled at a protest camp on Monday. More than 2,200 Palestinians were also injured by gunfire or tear gas, Palestinian medics said. Palestinian leaders have called Monday’s events a massacre, and the Israeli tactic of using live fire against the protesters has drawn worldwide concern and condemnation.

The United Nations Security Council was due to meet to discuss the situation. Israel has said it is acting in self-defense to defend its borders and communities. Its main ally the United States has backed that stance, with both saying that Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the coastal enclave, instigated the violence. Yesterday morning, mourners marched through Gaza, waving Palestinian flags and calling for revenge. “With souls and blood we redeem you martyrs,” they shouted.

There were fears of further bloodshed as a six-week protest campaign was due to reach its climax. May 15 is traditionally the day Palestinians mark the “Nakba”, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes in violence culminating in war between the newly created Jewish state and its Arab neighbors in 1948. The protests, dubbed “The Great March of Return,” began on March 30 and revived calls for refugees to have the right of return to their former lands, which now lie inside Israel.

Israel rejects any right of return, fearing that it would deprive the state of its Jewish majority. Palestinian medical officials say 105 Gazans have now been killed since the start of the protests and nearly 11,000 people wounded, about 3,500 of them hit by live fire. Israeli officials dispute those numbers. No Israeli casualties have been reported. More than 2 million people are crammed into the narrow Gaza Strip, more than two thirds of them refugees. Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on the enclave, deepening economic hardship and raising humanitarian concerns.

On the Israeli side of the border, Israeli sharpshooters took up positions to stop any attempted breach of the fence should demonstrations break out again. Tanks were also deployed. A senior Israeli commander said that of the 60 Gazans killed on Monday, 14 were carrying out attacks and 14 others were militants. He also said Palestinians protesters were using hundreds of pipe bombs, grenades and fire-bombs.

Militants had opened fire on Israeli troops and tried to set off bombs by the fence. Many casualties were caused by Palestinians carrying out devices that went off prematurely,” he said. “We approve every round fired before it is fired. Every target is spotted in advance. We know where the bullet lands and where it is aimed,” said the commander, who spoke on condition that he not be named, in accordance with Israeli regulations.

“However reality on the ground is such that unintended damage is caused,” he said. In Geneva, the UN human rights office condemned what it called the “appalling deadly violence” by Israeli forces. UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said Israel had a right to defend its borders according to international law, but lethal force must only be used a last resort, and was not justified by Palestinians approaching the Gaza fence. The UN rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, said Israel’s use of force may amount to a war crime.

Young victim
In Gaza City, hundreds marched in the funeral of eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour, whose body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag. “Let her stay with me, It is too early for her to go,” her mother cried, pressing the baby’s body to her chest. Speaking earlier, her grandmother said the child was at one of the tented protest camps and had inhaled tear gas. “When we got back home, the baby stopped crying and I thought she was asleep. I took her to the children’s hospital and the doctor told me she was martyred (dead),” Heyam Omar said. Many shops in East Jerusalem were shut throughout the day following a call by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a general strike across the Palestinian Territories. A 70-second siren was sounded in the occupied West Bank in commemoration of the Nakba. – Agencies