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ISRAEL / OPT: Amnesty fears violent crackdown at Saturday's protests

Amnesty International today issued an urgent call to the Israeli forces to show restraint when faced with mass demonstrations on Saturday.

Thousands or people are expected to take to the streets to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the violent crackdown by Israeli forces last year on protestors taking part in the Great March of Return in Gaza.

At least 195 Palestinians were killed, including 41 children and 28,939 injured by Israeli forces in the context of the protests between 30 March 2018 and 22 March 2019, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Amnesty is calling on Israel not to resort to excessive use of force during demonstrations on Saturday 30 March 2019, marking the anniversary of the protests that called for Israel to lift its illegal blockade on Gaza and to allow Palestinian refugees to return to land they were displaced from more than 70 years ago.

By the end of 2018 more than 6,000 Palestinians in Gaza were injured by live ammunition at protest sites and at least 122 – including 21 children – had limbs amputated as a result of their wounds, according to a report published in March by the UN commission of inquiry, which was set up to look into the abuses committed in the context of the protests.

Saleh Higazi, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director for Amnesty International, said:

“The shocking scale and horrific nature of the debilitating injuries inflicted by Israeli forces on Palestinian protesters in Gaza last year suggests Israel pursued a deliberate strategy to maim civilians

“Many of those shot by Israeli forces are suffering life-changing injuries with profound physical and psychological scars for years to come. These devastating injuries, and the ongoing shooting of protesters, highlight the urgent need for a worldwide arms embargo to be imposed on Israel.”

The commission of inquiry’s report echoed Amnesty’s own findings that many killings by Israeli forces of Palestinians during the protests violated international humanitarian law. It “found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot” – including children, paramedics, journalists and persons with disabilities.

The report highlighted how 80% of the 6,106 injuries caused by live ammunition were to the lower limbs and that more people lost limbs as a result of injuries sustained during the Great March of Return protests than during the entire 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. Doctors in Gaza had told Amnesty that many of the serious injuries they had witnessed were typical of war wounds.

According to military experts and forensic pathologists who reviewed photographs of injuries obtained by Amnesty, many of the wounds observed by doctors in Gaza were consistent with those caused by high-velocity military weapons, including Israeli-manufactured Tavor rifles and US-manufactured M24 Remington sniper rifles that shoot 7.62mm hunting ammunition, which expand and mushroom inside the body.

Saleh Higazi added:

“The Israeli forces’ policy of using lethal force during protests, deploying weapons designed to cause maximum harm against protesters, medics and journalists who did not pose an imminent threat to life, is simply criminal.

“Time and again Israeli authorities’ have displayed a callous disregard for people’s lives in Gaza. The urgent need for governments worldwide – including the USA and EU states – to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel could not be clearer. States have a duty to uphold the Geneva Conventions by suspending arms transfers that may contribute to Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law.”

The USA is Israel’s main supplier of arms and has committed to providing $38bn (£29bn) in military aid to the country over the next 10 years. Other countries – including EU member states such as France, Germany, Italy and the UK – have also licensed large volumes of military equipment for Israel. Despite Israel’s appalling record of using military weapons to violate international law, EU member states authorised 746 licences for military goods worth 758m euros (£650m) in 2017. Only two licences were refused and, of those, just one was rejected over concerns regarding the respect of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Amnesty is also calling for the recommendations of the commission of inquiry’s report to be implemented. Notably, the Israeli government should “lift the blockade on Gaza with immediate effect” and investigate impartially “every protest-related killing and injury in accordance with international standards, to determine whether war crimes or crimes against humanity have been committed with a view to holding those found to be responsible accountable”. For its part, the UN should gather information on alleged perpetrators of crimes under international law and pass it to “national and international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court”.

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