Fears of escalating bloodshed are rising ahead of planned protests in Gaza later today after Israeli authorities announced a “zero tolerance” policy towards demonstrations along the Israel/Gaza fence, said Amnesty International.
The organization is calling on the Israeli government to rein in its armed forces, which 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,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
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,” said Higazi.
Protesters are due to gather today for “Great March of Return” protests, which have taken place every Friday since March 30 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 30 children, and thousands of others have been injured.
The new Israeli government policy announcement came on October 18 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 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 stating 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.
“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 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.”