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Israel defence minister says 'no innocent people in Gaza'

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a press conference [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 April, 2018

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Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman's comments follows mounting criticism of Israel's policy of shooting and killing unarmed Palestinian protesters.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday there were "no innocent people" in Gaza, days after nine Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces.

The Israeli army's policy of using live fire against Palestinian activists has come under widespread international criticism.

The practice of firing into crowds had resulted in the deaths of 30 unarmed protesters since 30 March with hundreds more injured from gunshot wounds.

The far-right defence minister has said the fact that Hamas runs the Gaza strip means the Israeli army has done nothing wrong in killing the unarmed protesters.

"There are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip," Lieberman told Israel's public radio.

"Everyone's connected to Hamas, everyone gets a salary from Hamas, and all the activists trying to challenge us and breach the border are Hamas military wing activists," he added.

The protests along the fence separating Israel from Gaza are part of a planned campaign that will last until 15 May, the anniversary of Nakhba Day, when 700,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes following Israel's establishment.

There have been no reported Israeli casualties since the protests began late last month. Protesters are demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and are organising under the "Great March of Return" banner. 

Over the weekend, violence spiked again on Friday as Israeli forces shot at protesters along the border. Nine Palestinians, including journalist Yasser Murtaja, were killed.

Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop damage to the border fence, infiltrations and attempted attacks.

It alleges Hamas - the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008 - is seeking to use the protests as cover to carry out violence.

But rights groups have harshly criticised Israeli soldiers' actions, saying they are shooting at Palestinian protesters who pose no threat.

The European Union and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have called for an independent investigation, which Israel has rejected.

The US, a staunch Israel ally, blocked a draft UN Security Council resolution on 1 April calling for restraint and an investigation into the casualties. 

On Saturday, the European Union also raised questions over whether Israeli troops engaged in "proportionate use of force".

Israel has mantained an air, land and sea blockade of Gaza since 2017. A July 2017 UN report said that the Strip is now "unlivable", with most of Gaza's 1.8 million residents without regular access to clean water or electricity. 

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