GAZA CITY, Palestinian territories – A new Gaza War could be looming as a Cairo-led mediation on a ceasefire is faltering, and Israel has stepped up its rhetoric, advising it has established a “zero tolerance” policy.
More bloodshed was expected Friday as protestors continue to be mowed down by gunfire from Israeli soldiers positioned at the border between Gaza and Israel.
Palestinians in their thousands have been protesting for what they describe as the Great Right of Return each Friday.
Amnesty International on Friday called on the Israeli government to rein in its armed forces, which, it says, have routinely used unnecessary or excessive force during Gaza’s weekly “Great March of Return” demonstrations.
“Given Israeli forces’ horrific track record of using deadly force against Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza, as well as journalists, medics and others, the announcement of a ‘zero tolerance’ policy is deeply alarming,” Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International said Friday.
The exact details of what “zero tolerance” means have not been disclosed, but there are fears it will lead to more Palestinian deaths along the Gaza/Israel border.
“There are serious fears that this policy will further sanction the use of deadly force against unarmed protesters during today’s demonstrations, and that Israeli forces will be given carte blanche authorization to carry out large-scale, unlawful killings escalating the bloodshed. Israel has repeatedly used lethal force unnecessarily and excessively against unarmed protesters in shameless violation of international law,” Higazi added.
Protesters were due to gather on Friday for the regular weekly protests, which have taken place every Friday since 30 March demanding the lifting of the 11-year unlawful blockade on Gaza and the return of Palestinian refugees to their villages and towns.
Since the protests began, more than 150 Palestinians have been killed, including more than thirty children, and thousands of others have been injured.
The new Israeli government policy announcement came on Thursday after the Israeli security cabinet met in Jerusalem to discuss their response to a rocket from Gaza that hit and damaged a residential home in Beersheba in southern Israel. Amnesty International says it has consistently condemned attacks by Palestinian armed groups on civilians and civilian objects.
According to Israeli media reports, Palestinian demonstrators will have to remain farther away from the border fence, otherwise soldiers will open fire. Israeli authorities have also stated that incendiary balloons and kites launched from Gaza will be met with greater force.
Israel’s Housing Minister and former Commander of the Israeli army’s Southern Command, Yoav Gallant, was quoted in Israeli media saying that “the rules of the game are about to change,” hinting that Israel will be stepping up its response against armed groups in the Gaza strip and raising fears of full-scale military action.
Following the deaths of 7 demonstrators at last Friday’s protests, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had some harsh words for Hamas, which Israel holds responsible for everything that happens in Gaza whether they are directly involved or not.
“Hamas apparently has not internalized the message – if they do not stop their attacks and violence against us, they will be stopped by other means and it will be painful, very painful,” he said Sunday prior to his weekly cabinet meeting. “We are very close to action of another kind, action that will include very forceful makot. If they have any sense, Hamas will halt its fire and the violent riots now.”
Despite the seven deaths last Friday, and the more than 150 since March, Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been critical of the Israeli army, saying their response to the demonstration has been too weak. He wants soldiers to shoot to kill anyone who flies incendiary balloons into Israel, or who cuts the Gaza fence, or crosses over it, according to a piece published in The Jerusalem Post on Friday.
The same article infers Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is egging Israel on. “Abbas would like nothing more than for Israel to engage in an all-out war in Gaza and dismember his enemy, Hamas. In fact, it can be argued that his policy of cutting off salaries to Hamas, stopping electricity payments for Gaza, and doing whatever he can to thwart a deal being brokered by Egypt and the UN to bring quiet to the South is heavily responsible for the boiling point at which the crisis has now reached,” the article said.
Another theory being put forward was that Netanyahu, who he says has a cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, may want to provide a distraction for the raging crisis hitting the kingdom over the missing Jamal Khashoggi.
Gaza has already endured three so-called wars with Israel, and the war drums are beating again.
“The three armed conflicts between Israel and Hamas have had catastrophic consequences for the population of Gaza, which continues to suffer from 11 years of living under a brutal blockade,” said Amnesty’s Higazi.
“It is now time the international community shows ‘zero tolerance’ towards Israel’s flagrant contempt for Palestinian lives and disregard for its obligations under international law.”
The Israeli army conversely says it is only responding to aggression from Gaza. The rocket that hit a home on Thursday was one of two rockets that struck around 3:30am. A woman and her three children were sleeping in the house. The woman gathered the children and took them to a bomb shelter after the warning sirens. The army said she saved her own life and the lives of her children.
The army produced a video after the attack explaining the circumstances of the attack anmd the fears that Israelis live in from the rocket fire, which was published on their Facebook page on Thursday.