Abbas: 'Stop Israeli barbarism, occupation army murdering innocents'
9 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces during 'Friday of Tires', prompting PA President Abbas to launch anti-Israeli invective, allege Israel 'murdering defenseless, peaceful protesters'; Abbas also calls world bodies to act to stop killing; UN Security Council resolution to launch probe into riots blocked by US; 4 trucks carrying tires reportedly to be prevented from entering strip Sunday.
Some 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated near the border Friday, many of whom rioted and attempted to harm IDF soldiers, with seven Palestinians killed in clashes. Two additional Palestinians wounded in the day's protests were pronounced dead overnight—one of whom was a journalist—raising the total death toll to nine.
In the statement put out by Abbas's office, the Palestinian Authority president called on Palestine's envoys to the United Nations, Arab League and European Union to act immediately in conjunction with all international bodies to put a stop to "the barbarism and killing of the occupation army against innocent, defenseless people who demonstrated peacefully to realize their right to life, liberty and dignity."
The Palestinian president also reiterated his call for the United Nations Security Council to provide international protection to the "defenseless Palestinian people."
Perhaps heeding Abbas's call, Kuwait—one of the Security Council's 15 members—called on the council overnight Friday to adopt a resolution calling for an independent probe regarding events at the Gaza border.
The Gulf country failed in a similar attempt to have a probe launched last week, due to American resistance to the move.
The Kuwaiti ambassador to the UN said that his country did not seek to convene the council on the matter at this time.
Responding to the Kuwaiti attempt, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon called on the Security Council to instead denounce Hamas.
"The Security Council should denounce Hamas for using children as human shields," Danon noted, "and call for a stop to provocations that only exacerbate violence and tensions."
Also in the international organization, the United States blocked a Security Council resolution later in the night affirming the right of Palestinians to protest peacefully and promoting Secretary-General António Guterres's call to hold an independent inquiry into the deaths of Palestinian protesters in clashes with the IDF as part of the March of Return.
This marked the second straight week the US blocked anti-Israeli measures in the Security Council relating to border protests.
The initial death count of seven protesters was markedly lower than last week's 18 protesters killed—a number later increasing to 20 as two more Palestinians succumbed to their wounds.
Attendance in the protest was also lower, with 20,000 Palestinians demonstrating compared to last week's 30,000. Nevertheless, Friday's number is still significantly higher than the usual number of protesters near the fence on Fridays.
The Palestinians said two of those killed were teenagers, aged 16 and 17, and claimed that more than 400 people were wounded during the riots—with both figures being difficult to independently verify.
The main motif of Friday's protests was the burning of tires collected by Palestinians for that purpose for days before the mass rally.
By setting them on fire, protesters hoped to create a literal smoke screen to make it difficult for Israeli forces to track them, but the army made preparations beforehand, utilizing drones, fire trucks, water hoses and fans to disperse smoke and track goings-on behind it.
Responding to the judicious use of tires in the protest, Israel canceled the entrance of four trucks carrying tire containers into the strip, initially slated to pass through the Kerem Shalom crossing Sunday, a Palestinian official tasked with coordinating the entrance of goods into Gaza claimed.
While the office of Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories neither confirmed nor denied the claim, a statement was released saying, "A permanent policy regarding the entrance of tires into Gaza from Israel has yet to be promulgated."
IDF: Tires nothing more than a curiosity
During the protests, Palestinians attempted to tamper and break through the border fence, and threw eight explosive charges at IDF forces. They also lobbed Molotov cocktails, but no Israelis were harmed.
The IDF voiced its satisfaction at soldiers' conduct Friday night, noting Palestinians only sent small groups to try and break through the fence, which were turned away in short order.
IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis clarified that heightened alertness near the border will be maintained in the coming days to prevent further attempts to break through the fence and carry out terror attacks. In addition, reinforcements will continue providing support to the Gaza Division.
Brig.-Gen. Manelis refused to characterize the day as a failure or success for either side, but nevertheless scoffed at Hamas' attempt to use thousands of tires as a cover for sabotaging the border fence.
"If yesterday I said it was a gimmick, then today it turned out to be a curiosity," Manelis mocked. "The tires did not create the effect that Hamas sought and had no (positive) effect. They mainly harmed those breathing the smoke on the other side (of the fence)."
The army's spokesman further added that Palestinians nearing the fence were paid to do so by Hamas, which also purportedly forced children to do the same.
"Our response last week laid down the ground rules for Hamas," Manelis claimed once the protests died down. "Hamas allowed a set number of people to come near the fence and attempted to prevent things from getting out of hand."
"The deterrence created last week and the lessons we learned delivered results (this week). We once again saw that this wasn't a get-together, but a violent event," Manelis concluded.
'Our land is worth our lives'
Protester Samer, 27, told Reuters, "Israel took everything from us—our homeland, our freedom and our future. I have two children, a boy and a girl, and if I die, Allah will care for them."
Another protester, 19-year-od Ali Bakrum, told The Guardian, "I came here with my friends to fly a kite we made this week. I wrote our names on it. We got near the fence to throw rocks but stayed low to have cover. I'm not afraid of being shot or killed, because our land is worth our lives."
Muna a-Shaer, 43, of Khan Yunis gave out improvised gasmasks to protesters to help them defend themselves against Israeli tear gas. "We're here for our future," he told AFP. "Israelis are cowards."
Several senior Hamas officials attended the protests in person throughout the day to voice their support.
Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, who arrived at a protest tent camp east of Khan Yunis in the southern part of the strip, told demonstrators that, "The siege (on Gaza) and starvation have failed in their attempt to cause the people of Gaza to oppose the resistance movement (of Hamas against Israel).
"Gaza will return the Palestinian issue to the political arena. From here on, we will do everything to deter Israel and frighten it. Gaza will not starve or give up its national aspirations. If the strip blows up, the blast will be in Israel's face."
Demonstrations would continue, he added, telling the crowds, "We will uproot the borders, we will pluck out their hearts, and we will pray in Jerusalem."
Several hours before, two other senior Hamas officials arrived to one of the demonstration's center—Mahmoud a-Zahar and Hamas security chief Tawfiq Abu Naim.
A-Zahar told the assembled crowd that, "If Israel struck deep within the strip, Hamas will retaliate by striking deep at the heart of settlements."
The March of Return campaign, inaugurated last week following a Facebook post by a Palestinian activist that went viral, will continue in the coming weeks and culminate May 15, with the Palestinian Nakba Day—regarded by them as the disastrous day on which the State of Israel was founded.
In the weeks leading up to May 15, low-grade confrontations are expected on most weekdays, with weekly apexes on Fridays after the day's prayers. The most combustible dates on the road leading up to Nakba Day are Palestinian Prisoners' Day on April 17, Israel's 70th Independence Day on May 14 and then Nakba Day itself the following day—also the day the new US Embassy in Jerusalem is to be opened.