By Agence France-Presse
The Arab League called Thursday for an international probe into alleged crimes by Israeli forces against Palestinians following mass protests on the Gaza border that saw dozens of demonstrators killed.
Tens of thousands have protested along Gaza’s border with Israel since March 30 calling for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their homes now inside Israel.
The largest demonstrations coincided with the move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Monday, which saw Israeli forces kill some 60 Palestinians.
“We call for a credible international investigation into the crimes committed by the occupation,” Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said at an extraordinary meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Thursday to discuss the violence.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will on Friday host an emergency summit in Istanbul of the world’s main pan-Islamic body, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which he said would send a “strong message to the world”.
Erdogan, who also announced plans for a pro-Palestinian rally, has exchanged bitter accusations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling Israel an “apartheid state” and ordering the country’s ambassador to Turkey to leave.
Weeks of protests and clashes along the border may be reaching an end as Ramadan begins, but the death toll has led to international condemnations of Israel and calls for an independent investigation.
“We are facing a state of blatant aggression against international law and legitimacy which was embodied by the US embassy’s transfer in the occupying state to Jerusalem,” said Abul Gheit.
Israel has rejected those demands, saying its actions are necessary to stop mass infiltrations from the blockaded Palestinian enclave controlled by Islamist movement Hamas.
– Hamas threatens ‘all force’ –
On Wednesday, Israeli officials seized upon remarks by a senior Hamas member who said 50 of the 62 Palestinians killed this week were members of the group, arguing it showed the protests were not peaceful.
But the Hamas official, Salah Bardawil, did not give further details about whether they were members of the group’s armed or political wing, or what they were doing at the time they were killed.
Another Hamas official did not confirm the number, but said those taking part were demonstrating peacefully.
The protests, which have seen unsuccessful attempts to break through the fence, have dwindled since Monday, and the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on Thursday may further dampen interest.
Friday — the day protests usually peak — will be a key test of whether the current round of unrest will continue.
The demonstrations were meant to end on May 15, but Hamas officials have said they want them to continue.
Israeli forces have killed some 116 Palestinians since the protests began, with one Israeli soldier reported wounded.
Israel hit a Hamas base in an air raid Thursday, saying gunfire from Gaza had targeted its soldiers and damaged a house. No one was reported hurt on either side.
“The Israeli army struck targets belonging to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, including terrorist infrastructure and weapons-making facilities,” the military said.
Palestinian security sources said the target was a Hamas base.
Hamas in a statement on Thursday signalled it could resort to its weapons in response to this week’s violence, but many analysts see that as unlikely for now.
“We stress to the Zionist enemy and its leaders that the resistance movements whose people are participating in this peaceful movement with all awareness and concern for our people can respond with all force,” it said.
– ‘Bloodshed would stop’ –
The Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo came after Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday said his government was communicating with both sides “so that this bloodshed would stop”.
Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, told Al-Jazeera on Wednesday that the Egyptians “support the right of our people to struggle and the right of return, and stressed their keenness not to allow these marches to degenerate into an armed military confrontation.”
Israel has rejected criticism over Monday’s violence, with the United States strongly backing its ally and blaming Hamas for the deaths.
Calls for an independent probe into the deaths have come from many sides, including Britain, Germany, Canada and Switzerland.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the European Union have also called for an independent investigation.
Israel accuses Hamas, with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of seeking to use the demonstrations as cover for violence.
It says those approaching the fence have used explosive devices and firebombs, while soldiers have been shot at.
The military, referring to Monday’s deaths, said “it appears that at least 24” of those killed were militants, mainly from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Palestinians and rights groups say protesters are being shot despite posing no threat to Israeli soldiers on the other side of the heavily guarded fence.
Hamas denies Israeli accusations it orchestrated the demonstrations, saying it supports them but that they were organised independently.