The US Ambassador to the UN has claimed “no country would act with greater restraint than Israel”, as the death toll of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops passed 60 and officials said 2,700 had been wounded.
While the shooting of mostly unarmed Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border fence received widespread international condemnation, criticism within the US was muted.
Nikki Haley repeated a claim made the day before by the White House, and said Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, was responsible for the deaths and injuries.
Addressing the UN Security Council on Tuesday, she said: “Let’s remember that the Hamas terrorist organisation has been inciting violence for years, long before the United States decided to move our embassy.”
She added: “This is what is endangering the people of Gaza. Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday.”
While reports from Gaza suggested the majority of protesters were unarmed, Ms Haley called attention to the tactics employed by some, which included the use of Molotov cocktails attached to kites. She also accused Hamas of making use of loudspeakers to urge protesters.
She added: “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”
The Palestinian ambassador, Riyad Mansour, addressed the council. “How many Palestinians have to die before you take action? When are you going to act,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
Israeli ambassador Danny Danon later responded: “You must tell Hamas that violence is not the answer.”
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said Monday’s killing of more than 60 people showed the need for a political solution to the conflict. Speaking at the headquarters of the European Union, he said the way out of the standoff was “a two-state solution allowing Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace and security together”.
The pro-Israel lobby is a powerful influence in the US and groups such as Christians United for Israel and American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) spend millions of dollars to further their causes. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has spoken several times at AIPAC’s annual conference, most recently in March.
“You remember people talked about Israel’s isolation? You remember that,” he said. “Israel’s isolation? Pretty soon, the countries that don’t have relations with us, they’re going to be isolated. There are those who talk about boycotting Israel? We’ll boycott them.”
The demonstrators in Gaza have been protesting since the US announced unilaterally last December that it was recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv. For decades, the international community had insisted that the final status of Jerusalem had to be part of a broader settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Gazans protest as US embassy moves to Jerusalem – in pictures
Donald Trump, who pleased his evangelical supporters by recognising Israel as the nation’s capital and who had vowed to do so during the 2016 election campaign, said the move was merely responding to a reality on the ground.
While the White House refused to even urge Israel to show restraint, some US politicians did criticise its actions
“This is a staggering toll. Hamas violence does not justify Israel firing on unarmed protesters,” senator Bernie Sanders said in a statement. “The United States must play an aggressive role in bringing Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and the international community together to address Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and stop this escalating violence.”
Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi condemned Hamas and said Israel had the right to defend its borders, but added: “We hope Israel will use all appropriate restraint, as we urge both parties to move towards negotiations that will ensure the safety and wellbeing of both Israelis and Palestinians.
“The United States has long supported efforts to help Israeli and Palestinian leaders find a way towards a permanent two-state solution with two peoples living side-by-side in peace and security. It is profoundly disappointing that the administration chose to undermine this goal.”