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International
AP
Gaza hospitals struggle with high casualty toll

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Patients with gunshot wounds filled wards and hallways in Gaza’s under-equipped and overwhelmed main hospital Tuesday, with dozens still waiting in line for surgery a day after Israeli soldiers shot and killed 59 Palestinians and wounded hundreds in mass protests on the Gaza border.

The high casualty toll triggered a diplomatic backlash against Israel and new charges of excessive use of force against unarmed protesters. The U.N. Security Council began its session Tuesday with a moment of silence for the dead, and the U.N.’s special Mideast envoy said there was “no justification for the killing.”

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador, and several European countries called for an international investigation.

Israel said it has the right to protect its border and nearby communities, accusing Gaza’s ruling militant group Hamas of carrying out several attacks under the guise of the protests. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, came to Israel’s defense, saying no member “would act with more restraint than Israel has.”

Monday’s border confrontation was the culmination of a weeks-long protest campaign to break a border blockade that Israel and Egypt imposed after a Hamas took over Gaza by force in 2007. The protests were led by Hamas, but fueled by the growing despair among Gaza’s 2 million people who face worsening poverty, unemployment, 22-hour-a-day power cuts and sweeping bans on travel and trade.

The protests were also driven by anger over the relocation Monday of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem. Palestinians seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as a future capital.

Even before the latest round of bloodshed, Gaza’s health system of 13 public hospitals and 14 clinics run by NGOs had buckled under persistent blockade-linked shortages of medicines and surgical supplies. At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the main health facility in the strip, these woes were magnified this week.

Anticipating a major influx of casualties ahead of Monday’s mass march, Shifa had set up an outdoor triage station under a green and blue tarp in the hospital courtyard, setting up 30 beds and stretchers there.

Throughout the day Monday, Shifa received about 500 injured people, more than 90 percent with gunshot wounds, said hospital director Ayman Sahbani. Of those, 192 needed surgery, including 120 who needed orthopedic surgery, he said.

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, overwhelmed surgeons working in 12 operating theaters had only performed 40 orthopedic operations, with 80 others still waiting their turn.

In the orthopedics department, nerves were frayed Tuesday as relatives worried about wounded family members amid fears their conditions might deteriorate.

Nickolay Mladenov, the special U.N. envoy to the region, told the Security Council on Tuesday that hospitals in Gaza were “reporting an unfolding crisis of essential medical supplies, drugs and equipment needed to treat the injured.”

He said a U.N. official who visited Gaza, “witnessed first-hand patients being brought in on stretchers and left in the hospital’s courtyard, which was being used as a triage area.”

“There is no justification for the killing, there is no excuse,” Mladenov said, adding that Israel had a responsibility to calibrate its use of force. At the same time, he said, “messages by Hamas indicate the intention to use mass protests to infiltrate into Israel and attack Israelis.”

On Monday, Israeli forces shot and killed 59 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,300, making it the deadliest single day in Gaza since a 2014 cross-border war between Israel and Hamas. Two more Palestinians were shot dead in scattered border protests Tuesday, bring the total since late March to more than 100, the Health Ministry said.

Israel’s military said 14 of those killed Monday were involved in planting explosives or firing on Israeli soldiers.

The diplomatic backlash against Israel was swift following the dramatic scenes from the Gaza border of frantic protesters carrying the wounded to ambulances in clouds of putrid black smoke from burning tires and flag-waving women in robes and headscarves defiantly facing Israeli soldiers in the distance.

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador, and Israel retaliated in kind. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Turkey’s president of hypocrisy, saying that a “man whose hands are drenched in the blood of countless Kurdish civilians in Turkey and Syria is the last one who can preach to us about military ethics.”

Ireland and Belgium summoned the Israeli ambassadors to their foreign ministries for questioning about the Gaza violence, and the two nations, along with Germany, called for an investigation. China called on Israel to show restraint.

In Brussels, Prime Minister Charles Michel called the Israeli actions “unacceptable violence” and said there was a “clear lack of proportionality.” Michel said the violence and killings would be moved onto the calendar of the European Union summit in Sofia on Wednesday and Thursday.

German spokesman Steffen Seibert said the violence “concerns us greatly,” but also accused Hamas of cynically escalating the unrest.

South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said he was “deeply distressed and broken-hearted by the massacre perpetrated” by Israel.

Also Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his envoy to Washington to return to the West Bank in a show of protest against the U.S. Embassy move to contested Jerusalem.


International
AP
N. Korea threatens to cancel US summit

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Wednesday canceled a high-level meeting with South Korea and threatened to scrap a historic summit next month between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over military exercises between Seoul and Washington that Pyongyang has long claimed are invasion rehearsals.

The surprise declaration, which came in a pre-dawn dispatch in North Korea's state media, appears to cool what had been an unusual flurry of outreach from a country that last year conducted a provocative series of weapons tests that had many fearing the region was on the edge of war. It's still unclear, however, whether the North intends to scuttle all diplomacy or merely wants to gain leverage ahead of the planned June 12 talks between Kim and Trump.

The statement by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency was released hours before the two Koreas were to meet at a border village to discuss how to implement their leaders' recent agreements to reduce military tensions along their heavily fortified border and improve their overall ties.

It called the two-week Max Thunder drills, which began Monday and reportedly include about 100 aircraft, an "intended military provocation" and an "apparent challenge" to an April summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, when the leaders met on their border in their countries' third summit talks since their formal division in 1948. KCNA said the U.S. aircraft mobilized for the drills include nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and stealth F-22 fighter jets, two of the U.S. military assets it has previously said are aimed at launching nuclear strikes on the North.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said the drills will go on as planned.

"The United States must carefully contemplate the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit amid the provocative military ruckus that it's causing with South Korean authorities," the North said Wednesday. "We'll keenly monitor how the United States and South Korean authorities will react."

North Korea's first vice foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan, later released a separate statement saying Pyongyang has no interest in a summit with Washington if it's going to be a "one-sided" affair where it's pressured to give up its nukes.

He criticized recent comments by Trump's top security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. officials who have been talking about how the North should follow the "Libyan model" of nuclear disarmament and provide a "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement." He also took issue with U.S. views that the North should also fully relinquish its biological and chemical weapons.

"We will appropriately respond to the Trump administration if it approaches the North Korea-U.S. summit meeting with a truthful intent to improve relations," Kim said. "But we are no longer interested in a negotiation that will be all about driving us into a corner and making a one-sided demand for us to give up our nukes and this would force us to reconsider whether we would accept the North Korea-U.S. summit meeting."

Some analysts say bringing up Libya, which dismantled its rudimentary nuclear program in the 2000s in exchange for sanctions relief, would risk derailing any progress in negotiations with the North.

Kim Jong Un took power weeks after former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's gruesome death at the hands of rebel forces amid a popular uprising in October 2011. The North has frequently used Gadhafi's death to justify its own nuclear development in the face of perceived U.S. threats.

Annual military drills between Washington and Seoul have long been a major source of contention between the Koreas, and analysts have wondered whether their continuation would hurt the detente that, since an outreach by Kim in January, has replaced the insults and threats of war. Earlier — and much larger — springtime drills, which Washington and Seoul toned down, went off without the North's typically fiery condemnation or accompanying weapons tests.

South Korean called North Korea's move "regrettable" and demanded a quick return to talks.

Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman Baek Tae-hyun said the North's decision goes against the spirit of last month's inter-Korean summit, where the Koreas' leaders issued a vague vow on the "complete denuclearization" on the Korean Peninsula and pledged permanent peace between the rivals. He didn't provide a straightforward answer on whether Seoul sees the North's talks cancellation as potentially affecting the meeting between Trump and Kim.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department emphasized that Kim had previously indicated he understood the need and purpose of the U.S. continuing its long-planned exercises with South Korea. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. had not heard anything directly from Pyongyang or Seoul that would change that.

"We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un," Nauert said.

Army Col. Rob Manning said this current exercise is part of the U.S. and South Korea's "routine, annual training program to maintain a foundation of military readiness." Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said the purpose of Max Thunder and exercise Foal Eagle — another training event — is to enhance the two nations' abilities to operate together to defend South Korea.