AN AID agency has attacked “international indifference” towards the plight of Palestinians on the Gaza strip, in the wake of protests on Good Friday in which 16 Palestinians were killed and 1000 were injured.
Thousands of Palestinians had marched to Gaza’s border with Israel for the start of a six-week protest at the continuing blockade, the Great March of Return. Friday was also Land Day in Gaza, which commemorates the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land in Israel in 1976.
Christian Aid’s Head of Middle East Policy, William Bell, who was recently in Gaza, said that many families attending the march had been caught up in the violence, as Israel opened fire on rioting protesters, and sprayed them with tear gas. Many protesters had gone to the march unarmed, Mr Bell said.
“It is really tragic how a whole population — two million people crowded on to a strip of land the size of the Isle of Wight — is being made to pay a very high price for the actions of a few. Living conditions are becoming more and more unbearable. Young people have no hope for the future. Having just returned from Gaza and witnessed the fast-deteriorating situation, I despair at the level of international indifference.
“The UN has predicted that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. It should not surprise anyone that people are demonstrating, and want to be able to move freely.
Each side blames the other for the violence, with Israel accusing Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, of orchestrating it. The clashes made Good Friday the single deadliest day in the Israel-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war.
Thirteen heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem released a joint message on Friday offering prayers for peace and an end to violence in conflicts across the world. In his Easter message, Pope Francis also called for “reconciliation in the Holy Land”.
The United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called for an independent investigation into the episode. In a statement, he said that he was deeply concerned by reports of the violence, and he appealed to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties, particularly any measures that could place civilians in harm’s way.
“This tragedy underlines the urgency of revitalising the peace process, aiming at creating the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations for a peaceful solution that will allow Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side peacefully and in security,” the statement said.
Israel has rejected the calls for an independent inquiry into Friday’s violence. Israel’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, declared in a radio broadcast that its forces “did what had to be done”, and deserved “a commendation”.