Thursday, 17 May, 4.48 am The Wire

From India, a Muted Reaction to Killing of 60 Palestinians by Israel

New Delhi: Two days after Israeli troops shoot dead 60 Palestinian civilians - including children and people with disabilities - India said that it was 'deeply concerned' by the 'loss of lives' and asked 'all sides' to prevent an escalation in the volatile situation.

The casualties resulted from Israeli soldiers open fire on thousands of Palestinians who had gathered to take part in the 'Great March of Return' on Monday near the Gaza border. The protest march was in support of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to land that they had fled following the founding of Israel in 1948. The march also coincided with the dedication of the new US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, a decision that was received with outrage and anger among Palestinians.

A press statement issued by ministry of external affairs late Wednesday night said that India is 'deeply concerned with continuing tensions on the border between Gaza strip and Israel where more than 50 Palestinian nationals lost their lives and thousands injured on 14th of May'.

The statement added, 'We are deeply saddened by the loss of lives'.

There was, however, no mention of how the lives were lost. Even though India did not attend the dedication ceremony, the statement also did not refer to the shifting of the US embassy to Jerusalem on Monday.

Incidentally, most international agencies including Reuters and Associated Press have put the casualty figure on Monday at 60, which is perhaps the worst death toll produced by Israeli actions in the past four years.

'We urge all sides to avoid escalation of the situation so as to create a conducive atmosphere to resume the peace process,' MEA statement concluded.

India's cautious phrasing is in contrast to statements from other major majors, which did not flinch from blaming or even condemning Israel for the bloodshed.

On Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang called on 'the Palestinians and Israelis, especially the Israeli side , to exercise restraint and avoid further escalation of the situation'.

'The status and ownership of Jerusalem is a highly complex and sensitive issue which is at the core of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute and involves national and religious feelings,' said Lu.

Russia also condemned the use of military force against civilians and expressed support for right of Palestinians for peaceful protests.

'Moscow is extremely concerned about this dangerous escalation; we express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the Palestinians killed, wishes for a speedy recovery of the victims. While reaffirming the Palestinians' right to peaceful protests and condemning the use of military force against the civilian population, we again call on the parties involved to show restraint and to give up steps that provoke additional tension,' said Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova .

Similarly, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called on Israel to exercise restraint with respect to the use of force, which should be 'strictly proportionate'. 'It reaffirms the duty to protect civilians, especially minors, and the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully ,' he said.

From across the channel, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson said that 'some may have been provoking the violence', but added that there had to be 'restraint in the use of live rounds'. Israel has blamed Hamas for the killings, claimeing that the latter had provoked protestors to gather at the border and used minors as human shields.

All the four other UNSC permanent members also reiterated their protest against the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, the city whose eastern part Israel has illegally occupied and annexed.

South Africa and Turkey also took steps to recall their ambassadors from Israel in protest against the Gaza violence. Istanbul also called back its envoy from Washington.

Meanwhile, the Arab League has called for a meeting of foreign ministers on Thursday at the request of Saudi Arabia to discuss the crisis.

On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council will hold a special session on the 'deteriorating human rights situation in occupied Palestinian territories' based on an official request by Palestine and UAE, on behalf of Arab group of states.

Earlier on May 14, the US had blocked the adoption of a UN Security Council statement that called for an 'independent and transparent investigation' into the fatal violence on the Israel-Gaza border.

A day later, US permanent representative to the UN Nikki Haley aid that Hamas had incited the violence at the Gaza border and claimed that it had nothing to do with the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. She walked out of the chamber just as the Palestinian envoy started to speak.

UN secretary general António Guterres said he was ' profoundly alarmed ' at the escalation of violence which had led to a high number of Palestinians killed and injured. 'Israel security forces must exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire. Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations have a responsibility to prevent all violent actions and provocations,' said his spokesperson.

In his briefing to the UNSC, UN special coordinator for mid-east peace, Nickolay Mladenov said that demonstrations had begun from March 30, building up to Tuesday to mark the 'Nakba'.

He noted that as part of the march, and to protest the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an estimated 35,000 demonstrated along the fence in Gaza and hundreds joined protests in the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, and East Jerusalem. No fatalities were reported in other places besides Gaza.

The senior UN official also claimed that Hamas militants were among those who 'had engaged in violent and provocative acts, including the placing of improvised explosive devices at the perimeter fence, which were detonated by an Israeli vehicle'. In retaliation, Israeli security forces carried out 18 airstrikes and fired shells in the direction of 26 Hamas targets in response to attacks.

'Israel has a responsibility to calibrate its use of force, to not use lethal force, except as a last resort, under imminent threat of death or serious injury.It must protect its borders from infiltration and terrorism, but it must do so proportionally,' he said on Tuesday.

Mladenov also said that Hamas' 'operatives must not hide among the demonstrators and risk the lives of civilians'.