Israel came under mounting international pressure amid calls Tuesday for an independent probe after its forces killed 60 Palestinians during protests along the Gaza border as the United States opened an embassy in Jerusalem.
Protests and sporadic incidents flared again on the Gaza border, though they were far fewer in number than the previous day, with two Palestinians killed by Israeli fire in the latest violence, Gaza’s health ministry said.
Palestinians on Tuesday marked the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, commemorating the more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
On Monday, tens of thousands had gathered near the border while smaller numbers of stone-throwing Palestinians approached the fence and sought to break through, with Israeli snipers positioned on the other side.
Most of the 60 Gazans killed Monday were shot by Israeli snipers, the health ministry said.
The toll included a baby who died from tear gas inhalation along with eight other children under the age of 16, the ministry said.
In the bloodiest day of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war, at least 2,400 other Palestinians were wounded.
Israel’s army alleged Tuesday “it appears that at least 24” of those killed were militants, mainly from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
But there were numerous calls for an independent investigation into the deaths, with Britain, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium among those supporting such action.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the European Union have previously called for an independent probe, with 116 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since a campaign of protests on the Gaza-Israel border was launched on March 30.
Only one Israeli soldier has been reported wounded during that time.
“The United Kingdom supports an independent investigation into what has happened,” Alistair Burt, British minister for Middle East affairs, told parliament.
He called for “greater restraint” in the use of live fire, while adding it was “deplorable but real that extremist elements have been exploiting these protests”.
British Prime Minister Theresa May called for restraint, saying “such violence is destructive to peace efforts”.
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the “violence of the Israeli armed forces against the protesters”.
Ireland and Belgium summoned the Israeli envoys in their capitals, while South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel.
– Haley defends Israel –
Turkey has told Israel’s ambassador to temporarily leave the country, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “state terror” and “genocide”.
Israel hit back on Tuesday, ordering the Turkish consul in Jerusalem to leave for an unspecified period of time, its foreign ministry said.
“Erdogan is one of the biggest supporters of Hamas, so there’s no doubt he’s an expert on terror and slaughter,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted.
Israel’s leader also accused the Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza of deliberately putting civilians in the line of fire for political gain.
“They (Hamas) are pushing civilians — women, children — into the line of fire with a view of getting casualties,” Netanyahu told the CBS network.
“We’ve tried to minimise casualties, they are trying to incur casualties in order to put pressure on Israel which is horrible,” he added.
The US ambassador to the United Nations strongly defended Israel at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the violence in Gaza.
“No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has,” Nikki Haley said. “In fact the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained.”
The United States has blocked the adoption of a Security Council statement that would have called for an independent probe into the violence, diplomats said.
Some funerals were held in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, while others took place Tuesday.
Hundreds attended the funeral of Yazan Tubasi, 23, killed east of Gaza City.
“I am happy that my son is a martyr,” said his father Ibrahim, 50, though he was crying uncontrollably.
In the West Bank, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas declared a general strike on Tuesday after accusing Israel of “massacres”.
– ‘Many rioters’ –
Despite the bloodshed, the embassy inauguration on Monday went ahead as planned in Jerusalem, attended by a Washington delegation that included US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, both White House aides.
Israel’s military said 40,000 Gazans took part in the protests the same day.
It said its aircraft had targeted 11 Hamas sites and tanks fired at “two terror posts belonging to Hamas”, accusing the Islamist movement of opening fire towards Israeli forces.
Israel says its action is necessary to stop infiltrations of the border fence and claims that Hamas uses the protests as cover to carry out violence.
The army said “many rioters” had tried to breach the border fence Monday and “approximately 10 explosive devices and several firebombs were used to target the security fence and (Israeli) troops”. It said shots were also fired at soldiers.
The embassy inauguration — which took place on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding — followed Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the thorniest issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.