IDF soldiers will continue to fire at Gazans who come too close to the border fence, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday, ahead of an anticipated Palestinian assault on the barrier this Friday.
“Anyone who comes close to the fence will endanger their lives,” Liberman said during a visit to the border in which he tried to discourage participants in the “Great March of the Return” from trying to cross into Israel.
Just hours after he spoke the IDF killed a Palestinian man from Gaza, who along with three others managed to break a hole in the security fence with a bar.
An IDF video released to the media showed how two of the men walked through the hole, briefly stood on the Israeli side and returned to Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa reported that the army had fatally shot Ahmad Arafeh, 25, in the chest. It was unclear whether he was one of the men in the video.
No Gaza inquiry, Israeli Defense Minister Liberman says, April 1, 2018 (Reuters)
Arafeh is the 18th Gazan to have been killed on the border since the protests began on Friday with some 30,000 participants.
The UN, the EU and a number of its member states including France have criticized
Israel’s orders to shoot those who approach the fence.
At least 10 of the dead were known terrorists in Hamas’s armed wing or in Islamic Jihad, the army said. Two of those killed on Friday were armed and had an explosive device they intended to use in a terrorist attack against Israelis, the IDF said.
Palestinians have, in turn, claim that those killed were unarmed protesters standing up for their right to “return” to land the Palestinians lost during the 1948 War of Independence.
The PA and Hamas have called for the International Criminal Court to open a probe into the deaths.
Liberman dismissed criticism of his live fire policy by the UN and European countries as he warned the thousands of Gaza participants in the “March of Return” not to try to break through the security fence.
The international left-wing group Human Rights Watch said the killings were “unlawful and calculated.”
The Foreign Ministry released a video on Twitter that said Hamas was “preparing for violent riots and armed combat on the Israeli border this coming Friday.”
It showed a photo of thousands of tires, destined to be set aflame, just inside Gaza and said that instructions for homemade bombs had been distributed.
The IDF said that on Tuesday violence broke in four places along the Gaza border.
Soldiers “used riot dispersal equipment and fired at suspects involved in damaging the fence.”
It added that it would continue to act against terrorist who were involved in attempts to harm security apparatus, including the fence.
Liberman visited Kibbutz Holit, which is very close to the southern Gaza Strip. He told reporters there that he hoped the Palestinians would come to understand the protest was pointless.
“I think the other side [the Palestinians] understand that it is not worth it to continue, and I warn those who do continue against any additional provocation,” the defense minister said.
“Most of those who were killed are well-known terrorists who are active in Hamas’s military wing or in Islamic Jihad,” said Liberman. “These are not innocent civilians who came to peacefully protest.
“We are not provoking the people in Gaza. We are protecting our citizens,” he said.
“We have set very clear rules [of engagement] and we have no intention of changing them,” Liberman said. “We are determined to protect the security of Israeli citizens, of course, first and foremost, in the area of Gaza, and there will be no compromise on this issue, no flexibility.”
Gazans who want to see true change should invest their energies in regime change by working to remove Hamas from power, rather than in protests against Israel, said Liberman.
Hamas leaders have invested $260 million in terrorist infrastructure in Gaza rather than in water, electricity or education for their people, he said.
Israel is prepared to help Gaza rehabilitate itself economically if Hamas agrees to demilitarize the area, Liberman said.
He also met with several dozen residents of communities near Gaza to hear their concerns and assure them that the army has the situation under control.
The left-wing group B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories said that Liberman’s decision to continue to order his soldiers to shoot at those approaching the security fence was frightening and illegal.
“An order to fire at unarmed demonstrators who pose no danger to anyone is a blatantly illegal,” B’Tselem said.
“The fact that, after the events of Friday and the number of wounded and killed in the course of the attack, the defense minister repeats the same orders is frightening. The government of Israel and the army must change the orders and make it clear that it is forbidden to fire on demonstrators.”
Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for the Middle East Eric Goldstein said, “Israeli soldiers were not merely using excessive force, but were apparently acting on orders that all but ensured a bloody military response to the Palestinian demonstrations.
“The result was foreseeable, deaths and injuries of demonstrators on the other side of a border who posed no imminent threat to life,” Goldstein said.
These kinds of actions “highlight the importance of the International Criminal Court prosecutor opening a formal investigation into serious international crimes in Palestine,” Human Rights Watch said.
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