Middle East

West Bank erupts as Gaza buries its dead

A Palestinian demonstrator holds a sling during a protest marking the 70th anniversary of Nakba, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

BEIRUT: Clashes erupted in the occupied West Bank Tuesday as several hundred Palestinians protested on the anniversary of the Nakba, while Gazans buried their dead a day after 60 protesters were killed by Israeli forces. In the wake of the carnage on the Gaza border Monday, Israel faced growing diplomatic pressure as widespread calls, including from Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the U.K., were made for an independent investigation into the deaths.

Palestinians across the region Tuesday marked the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, commemorating the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 War surrounding Israel’s creation.

Hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets across West Bank cities including Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus, Tulkarm and Hebron to protest Monday’s opening of the U.S. Embassy in occupied Jerusalem and to demand the right for Palestinians to return to their lands.

In Bethlehem, 46 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli forces who used live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters.

Dozens of others were also wounded in Nablus.

There were reports of the Israeli use of drones to drop tear gas on protesters, a tactic previously used only in Gaza. “Palestinians were also demonstrating in solidarity with Gaza. We are holding a vigil in Ramallah tonight to send a message to our people in Gaza that we are feeling their pain,” Rim Abu Labban, a resident of Ramallah, told The Daily Star.In a show of unity, a day of mourning and a general strike was declared in the West Bank. “The West Bank came to a halt. People were shocked by the massacre and everyone fully committed to the strike, more than any other time. They didn’t need to be told twice,” journalist Ismat Mansour said.

In Gaza, the situation along the border with Israel was relatively calm during the day as thousands marched in funeral processions.

The organizers of the Gaza protests had set aside Tuesday for mourning. They also called for calm as hospitals were at full capacity and could not cope with more cases, sources close to the organizers told The Daily Star.

Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians later in the day as the border protests grew – although they did not reach the previous day’s intensity – and wounded 250, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The ministry said 3,188 people have been wounded in two days. The latest counts bring the death toll to 116 and the number of wounded to nearly 11,000 since the protests started on March 30. There have been no Israeli casualties.

Hospitals in Gaza, already suffering from years of an Israeli blockade, are facing extraordinary challenges in treating such a high number of casualties.

“Due to the influx of wounded and lack of space, there are multiple surgeries happening in the same operating theater and sometimes even in the corridors,” Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said in written comments to The Daily Star. MSF also said it was treating 1,000 patients in its trauma and burn clinics, while other patients would require long-term treatment, several surgeries and rehabilitation periods of “months or even years.”

“What is happening in Gaza is unacceptable and inhuman. The use of violence by the Israeli army is entirely disproportional and this is reflected in the severe injuries our teams are witnessing; bone is literally turning into dust on the operating table,” the organization said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation, as Kuwait prepared a draft resolution to protect Palestinian civilians.

But the meeting ended without a unified message, as U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley laid the blame for the deaths on alleged Hamas incitement.

“No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has,” she claimed. But Nikolai Mladenov, the U.N.’s Middle East envoy, said there was “no justification for the killing” and “no excuse.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council will hold a special session Friday to discuss “the deteriorating human rights situation” in Gaza after a request was submitted by the Palestinian Authority and the United Arab Emirates.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 16, 2018, on page 1.

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