Israel Faces International Criticism for Gaza Deaths

Israel faced a torrent of international criticism for its response to protests in Gaza this week, as the Netanyahu government defended the country’s right to secure its borders.

Palestinians in Gaza buried their dead Tuesday after clashes with Israel’s military at the border fence a day earlier left some 60 people dead and injured thousands more. The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday that Hamas operatives were among those killed.

The events provoked an uproar among foreign governments, leading to statements and diplomatic moves that have renewed international scrutiny of Israel’s fraught relationship with the Palestinians.

Turkey temporarily expelled Israel’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy. Belgium and Ireland summoned the Israeli ambassadors there to express extreme displeasure with Israel’s response in Gaza. South Africa recalled its ambassador.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May called Israel’s use of live fire “deeply troubling,” and urged “an independent and transparent investigation” into it and what role was played by Hamas, the political and militant group that controls Gaza.

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Thousands of protesters were injured at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel ahead of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

The United Nations Security Council convened an emergency meeting on Tuesday, and Kuwait said it planned to circulate a resolution on Wednesday condemning the violence and calling for international protection of Palestinians.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials have fiercely defended their right to protect Israel and have blamed the violence on Hamas. The U.S. and Israel consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization.

Palestinians attempted to breach the fence on the Gaza border, Israel said. Some protesters burned tires or improvised other incendiary devices.

The prime minister’s office said Mr. Netanyahu had spoken by phone with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday. It said he thanked Ms. Merkel for supporting Israel’s right to defend its sovereignty and told Mr. Macron that Israel would preserve its security interests.

Officials in Israel acknowledged that the country’s ambassadors have been summoned by foreign governments. A diplomat in Jerusalem said Israel was waiting to see the tenor of the messages delivered before responding to them.

The area near the Gaza-Israel fence was quieter Tuesday, though Gaza health officials reported that two people had been killed. There were more than 400 injuries reported, including at least 17 by gunfire.


Israel’s military said about 400 protesters gathered on the border fence between Gaza and Israel in seven locations. There were also violent demonstrations in 18 places throughout the West Bank, it said.

Former Israeli officials and analysts said they expected Israel would press ahead with its defense of its approach.

“The most critical issue for Israel has been and still is the U.S. position and given the kind of intimacy and harmony between the current two administrations, obviously there is not going to be any kind of criticism from the American side,” said Eran Etzion, a former deputy head of the national security council in the Israeli prime minister’s office.

The U.S. has sided with Israel in assigning blame to the political power in Gaza. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said Monday. “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

The bloodshed cast a pall over the ceremony celebrating the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, whose opening on Monday Mr. Netanyahu and Trump administration officials called a step toward peace. The U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. The Palestinians also claim Jerusalem for a future capital and had warned the U.S. against the move, saying it would derail any chance for peace.

On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recalled its ambassador to Washington, Husam Zomlot, the authority’s Wafa news agency reported.

The U.K. and France have been particularly critical, with both directly expressing opposition to the embassy opening and the U.K. criticizing Israel’s use of deadly shooting across the border area with Gaza.

Hamas has used a host of anniversaries to rally support for mass protests in the past month and a half. The Monday protests drew 40,000 Gaza residents at 12 points along the border fence.

Protest organizers had aimed to encourage tens of thousands to march Tuesday for what Palestinians call “Nakba Day” or “Day of the Catastrophe,” the anniversary of the day after the date of Israel’s founding. But there were no calls on loudspeakers for protests, unlike on Monday, when mosques in Gaza urged people to actively take part in the demonstrations and buses moved people from inside Gaza city to the border.

Saudi Arabia condemned what it said was Israel’s targeting of unarmed Palestinian civilians and urged the international community to stop the violence and protect the Palestinian people.

Mr. Netanyahu, meanwhile, lashed out at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, one of several countries criticizing Israel’s approach to the protests, saying he was aligned with Hamas.

“Erdogan is among Hamas’s biggest supporters and there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter. I suggest that he not preach morality to us,” Mr. Netanyahu said Tuesday.

Mr. Erdogan, firing back on Twitter, said Mr. Netanyahu has the blood of Palestinians on his hands and couldn’t cover up crimes by attacking Turkey.

Israel and Turkey agreed to restore full diplomatic ties in 2016. Relations collapsed in 2010 after nine Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American were fatally wounded during an Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship carrying activists trying to break a blockade and enter Gaza by sea.

Since March 30, Hamas has helped organize weekly protests and threatened to break through the border fence. Israel has responded with live fire, killing more than 100 people. The death toll on Monday was the largest on a single day since the Israeli army fought a conflict with Hamas in 2014.

Mohamed Al Ashi, 22 years old, was sharing a room with two others in Shifa hospital in Gaza. Mr. Ashi was hit in the leg, and one of his roommates was shot Monday, while the other was shot the Friday before.

Mr. Ashi said he was protesting near the fence with some friends when the soldiers starting shooting at them. “They should not have shot us. We did not even cross the fence,” he said.

On Tuesday, the IDF said it had transferred two trucks with medical supplies to Gaza.

—Abu Bakr Bashir in Gaza City, Dov Lieber in Tel Aviv and Jenny Gross in London contributed to this article.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

Appeared in the May 16, 2018, print edition as ‘Outcry Follows Israel’s Gaza Response.’

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