JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman asserted that there will not be an international inquiry into the Gaza border clashes that left at least 15 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured.
“Israeli soldiers did what was necessary. I think all our soldiers deserve a medal,” Lieberman told Army Radio Sunday. “As for a commission of inquiry – there won’t be one.”
Liberman said that Israeli soldiers did not fire on peacefully protesting Palestinians and only targeted those who charged the border fence in an attempt to breach it or to plant explosives there.
The defense minister also asserted that Israel would act more forcefully if the violent protests continued.
On Saturday night Liberman tweeted: “I do not understand the choir of hypocrites who are calling for a commission of inquiry. They got confused and thought Hamas organized a Woodstock festival and we had to meet them with flowers.”
At least 30,000 Palestinians protested at six points along the Gaza border with Israel on Friday to mark Land Day, which has been observed by Palestinians around the world since 1976, when six Israeli Arabs were killed and another 100 injured in clashes on March 30 with Israeli soldiers and police during protests over the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel by the state for housing for Jewish citizens.
This year’s protests have been dubbed the March of Return, and are set to be followed by six weeks of protest at the border until May 15, the date on the Gregorian calendar marking 70 years since the establishment of the state of Israel, which the Arab world calls the Nakba, or catastrophe. It is also the date by which the Trump administration has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
The six weeks of protest are set to include several tent camps housing thousands of protesters living near the border.
The Israeli army on Saturday evening announced that at least 10 of those killed in the Friday clashes were “known terrorists with track records of terrorist activity.” The IDF spokesman also released photos of the ten men and information about their terrorist activity.
“Hamas operatives camouflage themselves among civilians, turning a protest from peaceful to an area of terror,” the IDF spokesman said in a tweet.
Earlier Saturday, Hamas publicly acknowledged that five members of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, were among those killed in the clashes.
The bodies of two of the Hamas gunmen reportedly are being held in Israeli custody.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry in a statement issued on Saturday said that the border fence between Israel and Gaza “separates a state that protects its citizens from murderers who send their people into danger. The fence separates an army that uses force in self-defense and in a focused and proportionate manner, from Hamas, which has for years – including yesterday – been trying to harm millions of Israelis, and which sanctifies murder and death.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement issued on Saturday night praised the country’s soldiers for “guarding the country’s borders and allowing Israeli citizens to celebrate the holiday quietly.”
“Israel acts firmly and with determination to protect its sovereignty and the security of its citizens,” Netanyahu also said.
The Jerusalem Post cited unnamed Israeli sources as saying that there are photos and videos to back the Israel Defense Forces claim that it only fired on violent protesters who posed a threat to the border fence, Israeli troops or civilian Israelis. The evidence will be shown to international officials who accused Israel of using disproportionate force, according to the report.
But one video clip being widely distributed by news outlets, the Palestinians and on social media shows an 18-year-old Palestinian man shot in the back and killed by Israeli snipers while running away from the border fence. It is not known what actions the fleeing Palestinian man took before he was shot.