Israel's Supreme Court upholds open-fire rules on Gaza border

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the military's use of lethal force against Palestinians during protests and clashes on the Gaza border.

In the 41-page ruling published by the justice ministry Thursday night the panel of three justices unanimously rejected a petition by Israeli and Palestinian rights groups to restrain the army's use of snipers firing live ammunition.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut accepted the government position that the Gaza protesters were not peaceful civilian demonstrators but part of the "armed conflict" between Israel and the Gaza Strip's Islamist rulers Hamas.

But she said that despite the ruling the army should continue its internal review of the events and of its procedures.

The rules of engagement came under international fire after Israeli forces shot dead at least 62 Gazans on May 14, when thousands of Palestinians protested as the US officially moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the "violence of the Israeli armed forces against the protesters".

UN and European Union demands for an independent investigation were echoed by Britain, Germany and Switzerland.

Israel has rejected the idea and the United States, its strongest backer, has blocked moves for a probe at the United Nations.

Ireland and Belgium summoned the Israeli envoys in their capitals, while South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel.

With at least 2,400 other Palestinians wounded, it was the bloodiest day of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war and the peak of a campaign of protests launched on March 30.

Israeli forces have killed 121 Palestinians in those clashes. One Israeli soldier has been reported wounded over the same period.

Five Israeli NGOs and the Gaza-based Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights had argued in the court that international law bars the use of lethal fire against unarmed demonstrators.

The army has accused Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, of seeking to use the protests as cover to carry out attacks.

It says that live fire is only used as a last resort after non-lethal means have failed to stop actions it considers "a real danger" to Israeli troops and civilians living near the border with Gaza.