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Palestinian death toll reaches 17 as Israel again rejects calls for inquiry

Gaza man dies of injuries three days after being shot on 'Great March of Return', as minister rules out probe
A Palestinian protester reacts during clashes with Israeli troops at the Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 2 April (Reuters)

A Palestinian man died from his injuries on Monday, three days after being shot by Israeli snipers during the "Great March of Return", as Israel continued to reject calls for an inquiry into violence on its border with Gaza.  

This latest death raises the toll from Friday's violence to 17,  as international condemnation of Israel's actions grows. 

Fares al Raqab, 29, was shot in the stomach during Friday's protests to the east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, the local health ministry said on Monday. 

Would you question if British troops had used force to defend your borders? 

- Michael Oren, Israeli deputy diplomacy minister

Hundreds of others were reportedly wounded, many of them by live fire, leading to calls for an independent investigation by the EU and the UN's secretary-general, Antonio Guterres. 

Israel rejected the calls and repeated its decision not to launch an independent investigation into Friday's violence. 

Speaking to the BBC on Monday, Israel's deputy minister for diplomacy, Michael Oren, defended the army's actions and said that everyone killed on Friday was involved in "active hostilities" against Israeli troops. 

"Why do no we need an independent inquiry? We are a sovereign state like Great Britain," said Oren.

"Would you question if British troops had used force to defend your borders? We have a world-class judiciary, a world-respected judiciary. If there are any questions about the legalities of our actions, then we will judge them as befitting to a sovereign state." 

The military said its soldiers opened fire only when necessary against those throwing stones and firebombs or rolling tyres.

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

Israel accuses Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of using the protest as cover to carry out violence.

Hamas, the dominant Palestinian group in Gaza, said five of the dead were members of its armed wing. Israel said eight of the dead belonged to Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and the West, and two others came from other militant factions.

Video footage posted on social media, which could not be independently verified, appeared to show unarmed protesters being shot in the back or while praying.

In one video, a man identified by his relatives as Abdelfattah Abdelnabi, 19, is shot in the back while running away from the border clutching a tyre. Abdelnabi died of his wounds, the Palestinian health ministry said.

In another video, a worshipper limps away from afternoon prayers after apparently being shot in the leg.

In addition to the 17 Palestinians killed, more than 1,400 were wounded on Friday, 757 of them by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, the health ministry in Gaza said.

Several Palestinian human rights groups have sent a letter to the Israeli attorney general, Avichai Mandelbeit, and the chief military advocate general, Sharon Afek, demanding they order an immediate criminal investigation into the Israeli military killings. 

Adalah lawyer, Suhad Bishara, wrote in the letter to Israeli officials that the military’s use of deadly weapons to disperse unarmed civilians was a "blatant violation of international laws prohibiting harm to civilians".

Diplomatic war of words

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Sunday lashed out at Benjamin Netanyahu in an escalating war of words over the killing of Palestinians in Gaza.

Erdogan called Netanyahu a "terrorist" after the Israeli prime minister said he would not be "lectured to on morality" from a country that "has been bombing civilians indiscriminately."

"Hey Netanyahu! You are an occupier. And it is as an occupier that are you are on those lands. At the same time, you are a terrorist," Erdogan said in a televised speech in Adana, southern Turkey.

"What you do to the oppressed Palestinians will be part of history and we will never forget it," he said, adding: "The Israeli people are uncomfortable with what you're doing."

The spat began on Saturday when Erdogan condemned Israel over its "inhumane attack" in Gaza after a major demonstration there led to clashes that saw Israeli forces kill 16 Palestinians.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered on Friday along the fenced 65km frontier, where tents had been erected for a planned six-week protest pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.

Organisers of the "Great March of Returnexpect to continue protesting until 15 May, when Palestinians mark the Nakba (Catastrophe), when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes in 1948 when the state of Israel was created.