Catholic aid agency CAFOD has expressed horror at the loss of life in Gaza over recent days. CAFOD's Middle East Country Representative, Mary Lucas, returned recently from Gaza.
She said: "We are deeply distressed by the loss of life in Gaza. People I met there spoke of hopelessness and despair, especially among the young, and they fear what will come next. The protests are intended to claim back dignity and tell the world the people of Gaza will not be forgotten."
"While the diplomatic community, including the UK Government, wait for an American-led peace initiative, the people of Gaza have dire humanitarian needs that cannot wait. We are calling on Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to urge Israel to show respect for life and restraint towards those demonstrating in Gaza, to provide humanitarian assistance and put the UK government's weight behind a renewed effort to end the closure of Gaza. There are now 4.7 million Palestinians - almost two million in Gaza - living under occupation. This is unsustainable and unacceptable."
"Eleven years of closure of Gaza by Israel has resulted in siege-like conditions, with food, medicines, and fuel running critically low. The numbers of death and injuries during the protests have brought hospitals and health services to collapsing point. This recent escalation in violence, threatens hopes for a peaceful solution for both Israelis and Palestinians."
Palestinians in Gaza have been demonstrating each Friday since 30 March in the 'Great March of Return.' In largely community-based gatherings of citizens, young and old, people share stories of the villages their families left in 1948, sing songs and cook food before they march to the border and call for freedom. The protests were due to culminate on 14 May with the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and on 15 May with the anniversary of Palestinian displacement in 1948, when the State of Israel was created. News and eyewitness reports indicate that the protests have been largely non-violent and that protestors have been met with live fire from Israeli soldiers. According to CAFOD's local partner in Israel, human rights organisation Yesh Din, Israel's current open-fire regulations allow soldiers to fire live ammunition at demonstrators who do not pose a threat to human life, such as "key agitators." These provisions constitute a violation of the principles of the use of force against civilians that are upheld under international law.
CAFOD has worked through local Palestinian and Israeli partner organisations in the region for over 30 years, promoting human rights and justice and peace for all people - Israelis and Palestinians alike.