UN urges Hamas and Israel to avoid violence on Gaza protest anniversary
Humanitarian co-ordinator calls for special care to protect children's lives
The United Nations has called for restraint on both sides as Gaza's Hamas rulers prepare to mark one year of weekly border protests during which Israeli troops have killed nearly 200 Palestinians and injured thousands of others.
Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian official for the Palestinian territories, issued a statement on Friday outlining the "staggering" human costs a year of demonstrations has inflicted, especially on Gaza's children.
The statement said 195 Palestinians, including some 40 children, have been killed by Israeli forces. Nearly 29,000 Palestinians have been injured, including 7,000 by live fire. The casualties among unarmed Palestinians and clearly-marked medics have "raised concerns" about Israel's use of excessive force.
It said the protests have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, overwhelming a health-care system already stressed by 11 years of Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
“The priority now is to save lives and everyone needs to take action accordingly,” Mr McGoldrick said. “Israeli security forces must ensure that their responses are in line with their international legal obligations, using non-violent means to the greatest extent possible. Hamas authorities must prevent acts of violence that compromise the peaceful nature of the demonstrations and everyone must ensure that children are not put in harm’s way.”
The anniversary of the "Great March of Return" launched on March 30 last year comes amid heightened tensions between Hamas and Israel following cross-border attacks in the past week.
Israel has massed forces along the Gaza border and carried out several rounds of strikes on what it said were Hamas targets in Gaza following a rocket strike north of Tel Aviv on March 24 that it blamed on the Islamist movement.
The UN Special Co-ordinator for Middle East Peace, Nikolay Mladenov warned on Friday that the situation remained "very tense" and called on Israel to "calibrate use of force" and for Hamas to "ensure protests remain peaceful".
Egyptian mediators have been shuttling between the two sides to de-escalate the situation, with reports suggesting that Israel would be willing to ease restrictions on Gaza in exchange for guarantees that the anniversary border protest would be toned down and kept far from the border fence, and that there would be no further rocket strikes launched from the territory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure to take a hard line on attacks from Gaza ahead of an early general election on April 9.
Mr Netanyahu's election prospects received a boost with US President Donald Trump formally recognising Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights on Monday, but the prime minister was forced to cut short his trip to Washington following the rocket attack on a village north of Tel Aviv in which seven people were injured.
Residents of Gaza have been increasingly desperate as a more than 10 years of an Israel-Egyptian blockade and three wars between Hamas and Israel have strangled the enclave's economy and severely damaged public infrastructure. More than half of the population is unemployed and most families struggle to meet their most basic needs.
Updated: March 30, 2019 10:06 AM