Rights groups said Thursday that Israel failed to investigate shootings that killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded thousands at violent protests along the Gaza frontier in recent years, strengthening the case for the International Criminal Court to intervene.
The Israeli military rejected the findings, saying the "mass riots" organized by Gaza's militant Hamas rulers were aimed at providing cover for cross-border attacks. The military said alleged abuses were thoroughly investigated, with soldiers held accountable.
Beginning in March 2018, Gaza activists organized weekly protests that were initially aimed at highlighting the plight of Palestinian refugees from what is now Israel, who make up three-fourths of Gaza's population of more than 2 million people.
But Hamas soon co-opted the protests and used them to push for the easing of the Israeli blockade imposed on the territory when it seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.
Every week for around 18 months, thousands of Palestinians gathered at different points along the frontier, often after being bused there by Hamas. Groups of protesters burned tires, hurled stones and firebombs, and tried to breach the security fence.
Israeli snipers fired live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets and tear gas from sand berms on the other side in what Israel said was self-defense, to prevent thousands of Palestinians — including potentially armed Hamas operatives — from rushing into Israel.
Israeli fire killed at least 215 Palestinians, most of them unarmed, including 47 people under the age of 18 and two women, The Associated Press quoted Gaza's Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights as saying.
Hundreds of others were seriously wounded in the demonstrations, which wound down in late 2019. Many were far from the border fence when they were shot.
An Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2018 and several others were wounded.
A report released Thursday by the Israeli rights group B'Tselem and the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the military failed to investigate orders issued by senior commanders and took virtually no action against any soldiers.
The International Criminal Court launched an investigation earlier this year into potential war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2014, when the two sides fought their third of four wars since Hamas seized power.
Israel has rejected the investigation, saying the court is biased against it and that Israel's justice system is capable of conducting its own investigations that meet international standards. It says its security forces make every effort to avoid civilian casualties and investigate alleged abuses.