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Spokesman for Netanyahu's Likud says all Gaza protesters 'legitimate targets'

Palestinian mourners carry the body of 29-year-old Fares al-Reqeb, who died Monday of his injuries after he was shot by Israeli troops, during his funeral in the town of Khan Younis, Monday, April 2, 2018.
(AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)
Spokesman for Netanyahu's ruling Likud party tells i24NEWS all 30,000 protesters 'legitimate targets'

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling Likud faction, Eli Hazan, told i24NEWS on Monday that all 30,000 protesters who marched on the Israeli border from the Gaza Strip on Friday were "legitimate targets", as the Israel Defense Force's (IDF) use of lethal force against protesters came under intense scrutiny.

"Anyone who tries to infiltrate our borders is a legitimate target," Hazan, Likud's foreign affairs director, said during a debate on i24NEWS' "The Spin Room" on Monday. "All 30,000 are legitimate targets."

Meanwhile, lawmaker, Elazar Stern from the opposition Yesh Atid party that he believed the IDF will investigate the handling of clashes on Friday, in which 18 Palestinians were killed, contradicting the position of Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

“I know that the IDF think that one casualty is one too many, even though 10 of the killed were military people. I can promise you that the IDF is going to investigate each event that happened on Friday, in order to learn the lessons needed,” Stern told i24NEWS.

Stern’s claim contradicts the position of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who vowed there would be no international inquiry into the IDF's conduct during the clashes, lashing out at the "procession of hypocrites" who demanded an investigation into the army's use of live fire against protesters.

"Any state whose borders people tried to crash would act in an even more severe way than we did, and therefore the procession of hypocrites calling for a committee of inquiry must understand that there will be no such thing," Liberman said Sunday.

"There will not be any international inquiry. We will not cooperate with any inquiry of this kind," he added.

Stern, an experienced IDF officer, defended the actions of the IDF nonetheless, saying that Israel cannot accept people illegally crossing the border.

“I hoped the number of casualties would be lower. Unfortunately, when you try to cross the border into an unfriendly country, you have to be ready to pay the bill. They [the Palestinians] have to blame Hamas for their economic situation, just like we do,” he said.

“We have to minimize the number of people killed. Innocent or not innocent. The IDF had to do everything to prevent them from crossing the border. Because once 100 civilians cross the border and two or three of them are terrorists, they can bring weapons. So we must block the system (of illegal crossings).”

Jack GUEZ  (AFP)

The IDF has rejected all accusations of excessive use of force during the clashes, maintaining that troops opened fire only when necessary against those taking an active part in violence.

It said that at least 10 of those killed were members of Palestinian terror groups, including five members of the Islamist Hamas group, and disputed that 758 protesters were injured by live fire as Gaza's health ministry has claimed, putting the figure in the "dozens".

Reaction to the military’s response to the clashes on Friday was split across Israel’s political spectrum with most factions -- including opposition parties -- expressing support for the military while the left-wing Meretz and Joint (Arab) List parties condemned the military’s use of lethal force and demanded an investigation into the army’s response.

Avi Gabbay of the opposition’s Zionist Union said he had “no doubt our soldiers did everything to reduce the number of casualties”, while Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said he was “proud” of Israel’s soldiers.

In an interview with Israel's Channel 10 on Monday, lawmaker Ayman Odeh from the Joint (Arab) List said by contrast that the IDF's handling of Friday's clashes showed "contempt for human life."

“The army drew up this imaginary line and whoever crosses it — kill them. Period. Is that the only way to address this matter?" Odeh said.

Although Odeh said he does not support Hamas’ policies, he still holds Israel responsible for the deteriorating situation in Gaza.

“They closed Gaza, threw the key into the sea and said ‘We’re not responsible.'”

MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)

On Sunday, Odeh’s party, the Joint List, issued a statement on Friday’s killings of Palestinians in Gaza, saying “the fire against the protesters again proves that Israel chooses a path of force and deliberate violence. All nations that have been under occupation fought against their occupiers, and the Palestinian nation is like any other nation.”

Friday's rallies were endorsed by all Palestinian factions to mark 'Land Day', which commemorates the killing of six unarmed Arab protesters in Israel in 1976.

Calling it the 'Great March of Return,' protesters were demanding hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948 be allowed to return.

Israel, meanwhile, accused Gaza militant groups of using the protests as a cover to either break through the border or launch terror attacks.

It said that during the protests there were attempts to damage the fence and infiltrate Israel, while alleging there was also an attempted gun attack against soldiers along the border.

The mass protests and ensuing violence was some of the worst along the tense Israel-Gaza border in years.

The Friday protests kicked off an expected six weeks of demonstrations, set to climax on May 15, when Israel will mark 70 years of independence -- a day Palestinians mark as the “nakba” (“catastrophe” in Arabic) -- and the United States will cut the ribbon on its controversial new embassy in Jerusalem.

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