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Israel, Palestinians trade accusations at United Nations as violent protests continue

JERUSALEM -- The Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors at the United Nations traded accusations Tuesday, a day after Israeli troops firing from across a border fence killed nearly 60 Palestinians and wounded more than 2,700 at a mass protest in Gaza. 

"How many Palestinians have to die before you take action? ... When are you going to act?" said Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour, addressing the U.N. Security Council.

"You must tell Hamas that violence is not the answer," Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon told the council.

The remarks -- made at a Security Council meeting that ended without any joint statement or action -- came amid fresh violence Tuesday. Palestinian health officials in the Gaza Strip said two Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire during protests near the border. The Health Ministry said the two new deaths occurred in separate incidents in central Gaza. 

Monday marked the deadliest day in Gaza since a 2014 cross-border war with Israel, and was part of a high-stakes campaign by the Islamic militant Hamas to break a decade-long border blockade. Violence erupted as tens of thousands of Palestinians held angry demonstrations at the Israel-Gaza border. Israel responded with deadly force; live ammunition aimed at those it says got too close to the border fence. 

Palestinians resumed their protests Tuesday to mark the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians refer to as an-Nakba, or "the catastrophe," the day marking the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Only dozens, however, turned out.

The leaders of anti-Israel protests in the Gaza Strip said Tuesday was a day for funerals. At Martyr's Cemetery in Gaza, Palestinians buried the dead -- most of them killed along the border fence that separates the tiny, poverty-stricken Gaza Strip from Israel.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday's killings show the need for a political solution to the conflict. The way out of the standoff is "a two state solution allowing Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace and security together," he said.   

In jarring contrast to the Gaza bloodshed, the U.S. held a festive inauguration ceremony for a new U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem at the same time Monday. The juxtaposition of violence on the Gaza border and festivities attended by a Trump administration delegation -- captured on split screens in TV broadcasts around the world -- briefly drew attention to the plight of Gaza and its 2 million people. 

For Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007, Monday's border protest was the culmination of a weekslong campaign to try to break the blockade. The group has led weekly protests near the border with Israel since late March. Over 100 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds wounded by live fire in the series of weekly protests.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the military's use of lethal force. In an interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor Jeff Glor, he said Palestinians put children in the line of fire.

"I don't know of any army that would do anything differently if you had to protect your border against people who say, 'We're going to destroy you, and we're going to flood into your country,'" Netanyahu told Glor. "You try other means. You try all sorts of means. You try non-lethal means, and they don't work, so you're left with bad choices.

"It's a bad deal, and then you try and you go for below the knee, and sometimes it doesn't work, and unfortunately these things are avoidable," Netanyahu said. "If Hamas had not pushed them there, then nothing would happen. Hamas holds responsibility for doing this, and they're deliberately doing it."

Global reaction to bloodshed

Israel faced growing backlash Tuesday. The Turkish foreign ministry temporarily expelled the Israeli ambassador to protest the use of deadly force on the Gaza border and the U.S. decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted that Netanyahu "has the blood of Palestinians on his hands." Netanyahu retorted in a statement: "Erdogan is among Hamas's biggest supporters and there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter. I suggest that he not preach morality to us." 

Meanwhile, South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel, and its international relations minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, condemned Israeli troops' use of deadly force. China called on Israel to exercise restraint. Ireland's foreign ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to express "shock and dismay" over the bloodshed and called for an independent investigation. 

Belgium also called for probe, describing the Israeli actions as "unacceptable violence" and saying "there is a clear lack of proportionality." Germany said it supports calls for an independent investigation.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the U.N. Security Council that no member "would act with more restraint than Israel has" in its confrontation with Palestinians at the Gaza border. 

The U.N. human rights office, however, said Israel has repeatedly violated international norms by using deadly live fire to repel protesters from its border with Gaza, suggesting its forces should arrest anyone who reaches the fence. Office spokesman Rupert Colville said rules under international law "have been ignored again and again." 

"It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured: women, children, press personnel, first responders, bystanders," he told a U.N. briefing Tuesday in Geneva.

While Israel says it is only targeting "instigators," Colville acknowledged Israel's right to defend its borders, but said lethal force should be a "last resort." 

"If people reach a fence: Arrest them."

Palestinian demonstrator reacts as others run from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a protest marking the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip

A Palestinian demonstrator reacts as others run from tear gas fired by Israeli forces during a protest marking the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 15, 2018.

IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS