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UN Ambassador Haley: Israel acted with 'restraint' in Gaza response

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at her Senate confirmation hearing in January, 2017. Washington Post photo by Melina Mara
Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at her Senate confirmation hearing in January, 2017. Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday said Israel had reacted with restraint in its military response to protesters at the Gaza border, and dismissed suggestions the violence was caused by the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Nikki Haley told the Security Council that Hamas, backed by Iran, had incited the violence by urging protesters over loudspeakers to burst through the fence separating the borders and flying kites into Israel with Molotov cocktails attached.

"I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council, who among us would accept this type of activity on your border," Haley said. "No one would. No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has."

The emergency meeting of the Security Council was called by Kuwait to discuss the unrest at Israel's border with Gaza after at least 60 Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded Monday when Israeli soldiers and snipers fired into a surging crowd of demonstrators. It was the deadliest day for Gaza in years, and came amid celebrations of a U.S. mission in Jerusalem being officially converted into an embassy.

The debate underscored the gulf between the United States and Israel, on one side, and most other countries in their assessments of six weeks of escalating tensions at the Gaza border about 40 miles from Jerusalem.

From U.S. allies to adversaries, most ambassadors added to their remarks on the violence their opposition to the U.S. embassy move.

"The unilateral decision by the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem does nothing but inflame spirits," said Sasha Llorenty, Bolivia's envoy. "The United States, which supports the occupying power, has become an obstacle to peace. It has become part of the problem, not part of the solution."

Karen Pierce, the British ambassador, expressed support for an investigation into Monday's killing, then stated London's position to the U.S. embassy opening.

"Our position on the status of Jerusalem and moving the American embassy is well known," she said. "The status of Jerusalem should be determined in a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestinians, and Jerusalem should ultimately be the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian states."

The envoys from China, Sweden and the Netherlands also went out of their way to reiterate their government's position that Jerusalem's status should be left to negotiations, and their intention to keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Haley, speaking at the beginning of the session, said the location of the U.S. embassy has no bearing on whatever Israelis and Palestinians might negotiate, and described Monday's opening of the facility of "a cause for celebration."

"It reflects the will of the American people," she said. "It reflects our sovereign right to decide the location of our embassy. Importantly, moving our embassy to Jerusalem also reflects the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel ... Recognizing this reality makes real peace more achievable, not less."

Both Haley and Danny Danon, Israel's U.N. ambassador, accused Iran of helping foment the violent and deadly clashes along the border with Gaza.

"We do have indications of Iranian funding into Hamas," said Danon, talking to reporters before the Security Council meeting .

"We know the riots are well organized, well funded and well orchestrated by Hamas," he added. "Iran is supporting the riots in Gaza."

But the main focus of the debate was the violence at the Israeli-Gaza border. Many ambassadors recognized Israel's right to defend itself, and denounced Hamas for encouraging protesters to storm the gate.

All, however, said Israel bears a responsibility to keep its response proportionate, and not use live ammunition on civilians.

Lethal force should be exercised with restraint," said Olof Skoog, Sweden's representative.

Mansour al-Otaibi, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United Nations, said he would circulate another draft resolution on Wednesday calling for the United Nations to provide protection for civilians in Gaza. He said it would be short of a peacekeeping force, however.

François Delattre, the French ambassador, said the violence threatens to spread beyond the border and engulf the region.

"The situation in the Middle East is close to a perfect storm," he said. "What is happening in Gaza only reinforces radical and potentially terrorist organizations in the region."

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative at the United Nations, called the lethal confrontation at the border a "savage onslaught" by Israel and an "atrocity."

Washington and Jerusalem have blamed the violence squarely on Hamas. The White House has refrained from calling for Israel to exercise restraint, and characterized using live ammunition on the protesters an act of self-defense.

Danon has been passing out material in advance of the Security Council meeting listing terrorist actions attributed to Hamas.

But the actions of Israeli troops, and the U.S. refusal to even express regret for the loss of life, has left both countries isolated amid growing condemnations that Israel used excessive force against the protesters, many of whom were unarmed.

A U.N. human rights official on Tuesday called for an independent probe of more than 100 deaths and thousands of injuries since March 30.

"We urge maximum restraint ... Enough is enough," Rupert Colville, spokesman for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva. Colville said that lethal force should be "a measure of last - not first - resort."

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