Israel's killing of two Palestinian children during border protests over the weekend has exposed once again the use of excessive force, including live ammunition, against Palestinians, while drawing condemnation from the U.N. Israeli snipers last Friday opened fire at Palestinians taking part in border protests and killed 14-year-old Hassan Shalaby and 17-year-old Hamza Ishtiwi, as reported by the Palestinian news agency Wafa.
"I am appalled by the killing of two Palestinian children by Israeli fire in Gaza on Friday. Such incidents must stop. Children must not be targeted or put in harm's way. They must be protected. Lethal force is only a last resort. Deepest condolences to the families," the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in a tweet.
Young victims are not a new phenomenon in the region. In the first Palestinian uprising that began in 1987, children and teens often threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who frequently responded with live rounds. According to the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, minors comprised about 21 percent of deaths back then. In the latest protests, that percentage is roughly the same. Ever since the demonstrations began in March, children have been a constant presence among the surging crowds. While many are brought by parents who hold their hands and carry them on their shoulders, others make their way on their own. Hamas earlier stated that there is no way to prevent families to attend the Great March of Return protests. Israel has responded to the rallies, still held every Friday, with deadly force, killing more than 235 Palestinians and injuring thousands.
Israel was criticized by a U.N. human rights body for its killing of protesters in Gaza and for its treatment of Palestinians, declaring it a "war crime" under the Statute of Rome. The high casualty toll triggered a diplomatic backlash against Israel and new charges of excessive use of force against unarmed protesters. Rights groups have branded open-fire orders as unlawful, saying they effectively permit soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters. In the face of growing criticism over Gaza border violence, the Israeli authorities earlier said that human rights laws do not apply to ongoing Palestinian protests along the Gaza Strip.