Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised Israel's security forces after the killing of 17 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, just as condemnation of the Israeli army's use of live ammunition against protesters grows.
In a statement on Saturday, Netanyahu thanked his troops for "guarding the country's borders" and allowing "Israeli citizens to celebrate the [Passover] holiday peacefully".
"Well done to our soldiers," he said.
Several countries and rights groups have denounced the shooting of the Palestinian protesters, who demonstrated in their thousands along Gaza's eastern border on Friday.
More than 1,500 others were wounded when Israeli forces fired live ammunition at protesters, used tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets to push them back from the border area, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
On Saturday, 49 more people were wounded in the ongoing demonstrations.
Palestinian rights group Adalah said the Israeli army on Saturday "accidentally" took responsibility for the attacks on Palestinian protesters, before deleting a post from their official Twitter page.
"Yesterday we saw 30,000 people; we arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed," a screenshot of the post, shared by Adalah, read.
In the aftermath of the protests, leaders in several countries denounced Israel's actions.
"I strongly condemn the Israeli government over its inhumane attack," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday during a speech in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the United Kingdom's opposition Labor Party, described the Israeli army's use of force as "appalling".
"The UK government must make its voice heard on the urgency of a genuine settlement for peace and justice," he said in a statement on Twitter.
Similar statements were issued from the Jordanian government, which called the attacks a "violation of the Palestinian right to protest peacefully and the use of excessive force against them".
Qatar also condemned Israel on Friday, while Kuwait requested an emergency United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on the same day.
However, the United States blocked the issuing of the UNSC statement that condemned Israel's use of force.
Walter Miller, US representative to the UN, said "bad actors" were using the "protests as a cover to incite violence" and "endanger innocent lives."
Miller's comments echoed the Israeli government's stance towards Friday's demonstrations, which blamed Hamas, the movement that governs the Gaza Strip, for the killings, saying they used "violent riots to camouflage terror".
Turkey on Saturday warned France against increasing its military presence in Syria, saying it would be an "invasion", as tensions between Paris and Ankara remained high.
Temperatures were raised after French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday met a delegation of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made up of Kurdish and Arab fighters.
Kurdish officials said afterwards that France was planning to send new troops to Manbij -- a northern Syrian town held by the Kurdish YPG militia -- a claim Paris denied.
"If France takes any steps regarding its military presence in northern Syria, this would be an illegitimate step that would go against international law and in fact, it would be an invasion," Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said.
"Especially if they intend to support terror group elements or give direct or indirect protection with armed forces, this would be a really calamitous step," he added during a visit to the northeastern province of Giresun.
Turkey itself sent troops into Syria and launched an operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia in its Afrin enclave on January 20 and drove out the group from the city on March 18.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly warned that Turkey could extend the offensive to Manbij, which is east of Afrin.
But Macron's office on Friday said Paris was not planning any new military operation on the ground in northern Syria outside the international coalition against the Islamic State extremist group.
Ankara views the YPG as a "terrorist" offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged an over three-decade insurgency in Turkey.
The PKK is blacklisted as a terror organization by Turkey and its Western allies.
But the United States, as well as France, have worked closely with the YPG in the fight against IS in Syria, much to Ankara's anger.
Erdogan on Friday criticised France's "wrong stance" and rejected Macron's offer of establishing a dialogue between Ankara and the SDF.
"We have no need for mediation," Erdogan said. "You can sit down at the table with terror organizations but Turkey will continue its fight against terror."
The wind whips up sand storms in Garart al-Gatef. Snakes and scorpions lurk amongst the desert scrub.
But hundreds of people who were stranded while trying to return to a town emptied in an act of collective punishment during Libya’s 2011 revolution have sworn to stay put here until they are allowed home.
The makeshift camp of 250 tents sprang up in early February after armed groups from the city of Misrata blocked convoys of displaced families trying to approach Tawergha, a town of about 40,000 that still lies in ruins.
In doing so, they thwarted – at least temporarily – a landmark reconciliation effort to resolve a case that has symbolized the political and communal divisions which surfaced during and after Libya’s uprising.
It was forces from Misrata that chased Tawergha’s residents from their homes more than six years ago, accusing them of supporting a military siege of their city by Muammar Gaddafi, part of his failed attempt to crush the NATO-backed revolt that overthrew him.
Tawergha’s residents, many of them the dark-skinned descendants of sub-Saharan African slaves, have since been scattered in squalid camps across Libya.
After long negotiations, they were told by the internationally recognized government in Tripoli that they could start moving back on February 1. Officials had even ordered 3,000 meals and a stage for a ceremony in Tawergha, said Mustafa Ghrema, a town council member living at Garart al-Gtaf. Diggers had started clearing some of the land.
But repeated attempts to approach Tawergha and set up camp there were blocked by a combination of uniformed forces and militiamen in civilian clothes, some of whom opened fire, Ghrema said.
“The militiamen who shot at us were not the same as the first group, who appeared to be organized military forces. They talked to us with respect and told us it was a problem and we could be exposed to danger,” he said.
“The militias used racist words, abuse and repugnant terms, and fired on us.”
Nearly 200 families settled on the roadside at Garart al-Gatef, about 27 km (17 miles) from Tawergha. A smaller number trying to return from Benghazi were blocked east of Tawergha.
Local and international aid agencies are now delivering food, water and medical assistance at Garart al-Gatef. A nursery has been up in one large tent, and some young children are being bussed to a local school.
But conditions are harsh. “You can see the wind for yourselves. It’s difficult to describe what the dust does to your eyes,” said Ghazala Awad, 41, as she stood allocating tents to families at the camp. “Sometimes we can’t even hear, and it doesn’t make a difference if you put a scarf on.”
Tawergha, about 200 km south-east of Tripoli, is an eerie collection of bombed-out, abandoned buildings that have been left all but untouched.
The U.N. concluded that the town was deliberately destroyed in 2011 in order to make it uninhabitable, and said Misrata’s militias had committed crimes against humanity.
For the past few weeks, the Tripoli government and the United Nations have both been pushing to resolve the standoff.
The camp’s residents say they will only go in one direction.
“These camps are temporary, not permanent,” said Salem Ibrahim, 61, a retired teacher who arrived at Garart al-Gatef in a convoy from Tripoli.
“We will not relinquish our land and our home and the soil we grew up on. We will stay here until we return.”
President Donald Trump has told advisers he wants an early exit of US troops from Syria, two senior administration officials said on Friday, a stance that may put him at odds with US military officials who see the fight against Islamic State as nowhere near complete.
A National Security Council meeting is set for early next week to discuss the US-led campaign against Islamic State in Syria, according to US officials familiar with the plan.
Two other administration officials confirmed a Wall Street Journal report on Friday that said Trump had ordered the State Department to freeze more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in Syria while his administration reassesses Washington’s role in the conflict there.
Trump called for the freeze after reading a news report that the US had recently committed an additional $200 million to stabilize areas recaptured from Islamic State, the paper said.
The funding was announced by departing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February at a meeting in Kuwait of the global coalition against Islamic State.
The decision to freeze the funds was in line with Trump’s declaration during a speech in Richfield, Ohio, on Thursday, where he said it was time for America to exit Syria.
A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said that “in line with the President’s guidance, the Department of State continually re-evaluates appropriate assistance levels and how best they might be utilized, which they do on an ongoing basis.”
Trump is spending Easter weekend at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate.
“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” Trump said on Thursday, based on allied victories against Islamic State militants.
“Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said. “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”
Trump’s comments came as France said on Friday it could increase its military presence in Syria to bolster the US-led campaign.
While the Pentagon has estimated that Islamic State has lost about 98 percent of the territory it once held in Iraq and Syria, US military officials have warned that the militants could regain the freed areas quickly unless they are stabilized.
Trump still needs to be convinced of that, said the US officials with knowledge of the NSC meeting.
The two administration officials who confirmed the Wall Street Journal report and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said Trump’s comments on Thursday reflected internal deliberations with advisers in which he has wondered aloud why US forces should remain with the militants on their heels.
Trump has made clear that “once ISIS and its remnants are destroyed that the United States would be looking toward having countries in the region playing a larger role in ensuring security and leaving it at that,” one official said.
Such a policy is nowhere near complete, however, the official added.
The second official said Trump’s national security advisers have told him US forces should stay in small numbers for at least a couple of years to make sure gains against the militants are held and ensure Syria does not essentially become a permanent Iranian base.
Top national security aides discussed Syria in a White House meeting recently but have yet to settle on a strategy for US forces in Syria to recommend to Trump going forward, the official said.
“So far he has not given an order to just get out,” the official said. About 2,000 US troops are deployed in Syria.
Trump last year went through a similar wrenching debate over whether to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, ultimately agreeing to keep them there but only after repeatedly raising questions of why they should stay.
Trump’s view on Syria may put him at odds with those of former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, named by Trump a week ago to replace H.R. McMaster as White House national security adviser.
The United Nations Security Council has held an emergency meeting over the Israeli military’s massacre of over a dozen Palestinians during an anti-occupation mass rally in Gaza, with the UN chief calling for an investigation into the bloodshed.
The 15-member Security Council met on Friday at Kuwait’s request, with its UN representative Mansour al-Otaibi describing the situation in the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip as “very dangerous.”
According to the figures provided by the Gaza Health Ministry, 16 Palestinians were killed and over 1,400 others wounded on Friday after Israeli forces fired live ammunition at Palestinian protesters marking Land Day and used tear gas to push them back from a heavily fortified border fence.
Ahead of the protest, the Israeli military had deployed tanks and 100 snipers with the authority to use live rounds on the Gaza border.
Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour said he expected “the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility” regarding a “heinous massacre” of peaceful Gaza demonstrators by Israeli forces and “defuse this volatile situation, which clearly constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”
Meanwhile, assistant UN secretary general for political affairs, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, urged maximum restraint amid “fear that the situation might deteriorate in the coming days.”
“Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law. Lethal force should only be used as a last resort with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities,” he added.
Additionally on Friday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged “an independent and transparent investigation” into the Gaza clashes and reaffirmed the world body’s “readiness” to support the so-called peace process.
Farhan Haq, a deputy spokesperson for Guterres, quoted the UN chief as saying that the Gaza “tragedy underlines the urgency of revitalizing the peace process aiming at creating the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations for a peaceful solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli representative at the UN, however, did not take part in Friday’s Security Council meeting.
Muslim world reacts
Meanwhile, Muslim nations voiced their outrage over the Israeli military’s response to the mass demonstration in Gaza.
In a statement on Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry accused Israel of using “disproportionate force” against the Palestinians and expressed “concerns” over the casualties of Friday’s clashes.
It also called on Tel Aviv to “rapidly” stop resorting to force and “give up on its hostile attitude.”
Additionally, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said the Israeli escalation was a violation of international laws and conventions.
It further called on the international community and the Security Council to assume their responsibility in containing the Israeli war machine against the Palestinian people.
Doha also stressed its support for Palestinian rights, including the right to return to their homeland.
Moreover, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned in the strongest terms the Israeli attacks and warned that regime's persistence in violence drags the whole region to the abyss.
He said in a press release that the Israeli occupation shoulders the legal, political and moral responsibility for such violations.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced Saturday a national day of mourning in honor of the victims.
On Friday, thousands of people attended the funeral of one of the Palestinian victims, identified as Sari Walid Abu Odeh, in the city of Beit Hanoun on the northeast edge of the Gaza Strip.
Dubbed “The Great March of Return,” Friday’s rallies in Gaza coincided with the 42nd anniversary of Land Day, which commemorates the murder of six Palestinians by Israeli forces in 1976.
The Return rallies will culminate on 15 May, which marks Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe) on which Israel was created.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli siege since June 2007. The blockade has caused a decline in living standards as well as unprecedented unemployment and poverty.
Tel Aviv has waged three wars on the coastal enclave since 2008, including the 2014 offensive, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead.
Russia has expelled 59 diplomats from 23 countries as the dispute over the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in Britain worsens.
The move on Friday was in retaliation for the wave of ejections of Russian officials after what the UK and its allies alleged was a nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the southern English city of Salisbury.
It came a day after Moscow ordered the expulsion of 60 US diplomats in response to a similar move by Washington earlier this week.
Russia on Thursday also revoked the permit for the US consulate in St Petersburg - meaning it must shut down - and issued a protest note to the US Ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman, regarding what it called "outrageous and unwarranted" diplomatic action against Russia.
Russia has already retaliated in kind against the UK for expelling 23 diplomats over the first known use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe since World War II.
Over the past few days, 25 European countries -along with the US, Canada, and Australia - expelled more than 120 Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity with the UK after the alleged attack.
NATO also announced seven officials working in the Russian mission to the alliance will have to leave.
On Friday, senior envoys from most of the countries that have expelled Russian diplomats were summoned to the Russian foreign ministry, Al Jazeera's Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said.
"One after another, black ambassadorial cars have been pulling up here outside the Russian foreign ministry and the ambassadors have been walking in to essentially get a dressing-down from the foreign ministry staff and be told how many of their personnel has to be packing their bags to leave," he said.
"What we are seeing here is the worsening of diplomatic relations, a tit-for-tat response," added Challands, describing the crisis as "severe".
"It’s catalyst has been the Skripal affair but, of course, there is so much else behind all this, so much that's gone on over the last few years - with the Russian campaign in Syria, with what's been going in Crimea and Ukraine, that has worsened relations between the West and Russia."
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said she has evidence of Russian involvement in the poisoning case.
Yulia is no longer in a critical condition and is improving rapidly, doctors said on Thursday. Sergei remains in critical but stable condition.
Britain's government says the nerve agent used in the attack, Novichok, was developed in Russia. Moscow has denied accusations that it was involved in the assassination attempt.
The Trump administration has said it wants to start collecting the social media history of nearly everyone seeking a visa to enter the US.
The proposal, which comes from the state department, would require most visa applicants to give details of their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
They would have to disclose all social media identities used in the past five years.
About 14.7 million people a year would be affected by the proposals.
The information would be used to identify and vet those seeking both immigrant and non-immigrant visas.
Applicants would also be asked for five years of their telephone numbers, email addresses and travel history. They would be required to say if they had ever been deported from a country, or if any relatives had been involved in terrorist activity.
The proposal would not affect citizens from countries which the US grants visa-free travel status - among them the UK, Canada, France and Germany. However, citizens from non-exempt countries like India, China and Mexico could be embroiled if they visit the US for work or a holiday. Under rules brought in last May, officials were told to seek people's social media handles only if they felt "that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting", a state department official said at the time.
The tougher proposal comes after President Trump promised to implement "extreme vetting" for foreigners entering the US, which he said was to combat terrorism.
"Maintaining robust screening standards for visa applicants is a dynamic practice that must adapt to emerging threats," the state department said in a statement, quoted by the New York Times.
"We already request limited contact information, travel history, family member information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants. Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity."
The idea is subject to approval by the Office of Management and Budget.
The public will have two months to comment on the proposal before it makes a decision.
Civil liberties groups have condemned the policy as an invasion of privacy that could damage free speech.
"People will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official," said Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We're also concerned about how the Trump administration defines the vague and over-broad term 'terrorist activities' because it is inherently political and can be used to discriminate against immigrants who have done nothing wrong," she said.
The social media platforms covered in the proposal include US-based entities such as Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit and YouTube. However, the New York Times reports that overseas platforms such as China's Sina Weibo and Russia's VK social network would also be included.
Moscow will respond harshly to a US decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, has said, but added that it was still open to strategic stability talks with Washington.
The US said on Monday it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, joining governments across Europe in punishing the Kremlin for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain that they have blamed on Moscow.
More than 20 western allies have ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity with the UK that represents the biggest concerted blow to Russian intelligence networks in the west since the cold war.
More than 100 Russian diplomats alleged to be spies in western countries are being told to return to Moscow, in a coordinated response to the use of a chemical weapon in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence official, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury on 4 March.
In a sombre statement in the House of Commons on Monday, Theresa May welcomed what she said was “the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history”.
“I have found great solidarity from our friends and partners in the EU, North America, Nato and beyond over the past three weeks as we have confronted the aftermath of the Salisbury incident,” the prime minister said. “And together we have sent a message that we will not tolerate Russia’s continued attempts to flout international law and undermine our values.”
On Monday, the Russian government called the expulsions “a provocative gesture” and said it would retaliate in kind, raising the prospect of further tit-for-tat expulsions, as the US and Europe left the door open for additional measures. The Kremlin said Vladimir Putin would make the final decision, and the Russian embassy in the US launched a poll on Twitter asking which US consulate in Russia should be closed.
The US has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials who Washington says are spies, including a dozen based at the United Nations, and told Moscow to shut down its consulate in Seattle, which would end Russian diplomatic representation on the west coast.
The EU members Germany, France and Poland are each to expel four Russian diplomats with intelligence agency backgrounds. Lithuania and the Czech Republic said they would expel three, and Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands two each. Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Sweden and Romania each expelled one Russian. Iceland announced it would not be sending officials to the World Cup in Russia.
Ukraine, which is not an EU member, is to expel 13 Russian diplomats, while Albania, an EU candidate member, ordered the departure of two Russians from the embassy in Tirana. Macedonia, another EU candidate, expelled one Russian official.
Canada announced it was expelling four diplomatic staff serving in Ottawa and Montreal who the Canadian government said were spies. A pending application from Moscow for three more diplomatic posts in Canada is being denied.
Australia confirmed that it too would expel two Russian diplomats who were in the country as undeclared intelligence officers, giving them seven days to leave.
Raj Shah, a White House spokesperson, told reporters on Monday that the US expulsions were part of “a coordinated effort”. He added that Donald Trump “spoke with many foreign leaders, European allies and others and encouraged them to join with the United States in this announcement”.
Shah described the expulsions as “an important message to send to Russia and significant to degrading their intelligence capabilities”.
At least 6,750 people have been evacuated from towns in Syria's Eastern Ghouta, marking the largest evacuation to date, according to state media.
A convoy of 100 buses departed on Tuesday morning from the Irbin corridor towards rebel-held Idlib province in the north, state news agency Sana reported.
In previous evacuations about 6,000 people have already left the towns of Harasta, which was controlled by the Ahrar al-Sham rebel group, as well as Irbin, Zamalka, Jobar and the district of Ain Tarma, which were controlled by the Faylaq ar-Rahman rebel group.
The rebel groups last week reached an evacuation deal with Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main ally in the seven-year war.
A third rebel group in Eastern Ghouta's Douma, the enclave's biggest town, home to about 140,000 people, has refused to surrender and is still engaged in negotiations.
According to activists, a deal between the Jaish al-Islam rebel group and the Russians will most likely be announced at the end of the week.
Eastern Ghouta has been under rebel control since mid-2013. That year, Assad's government imposed a tight siege on the Damascus suburb, which was home to about 400,000 people.
For six weeks since February 18, Syrian government forces, backed by Russian fighter jets, tightened their siege on the city with heavy bombardments and shelling that killed about 1,500 people and wounded more than 5,000.
Douma-based activist Laith al-Abdullah told Al Jazeera that Faylaq ar-Rahman are trying to evacuate their extended family members currently trapped in Douma – despite ongoing negotiations.
"Negotiations are ongoing and we expect to hear in three days whether a deal is reached," he told Al Jazeera.
Douma's local council on Tuesday described the negotiation process as "difficult".
"We do not expect fast results. We all need to be patient," the council said in a statement.
The first round of negotiations between the Douma-based rebels and the Russians included talks on improving shelters for displaced civilians, the statement added.
The talks also included ceasefire extension to last throughout the entire negotiation period, and to allow aid trucks in.
The second round of talks will kick off on Wednesday, activists told Al Jazeera.
It is still unknown what the agenda of the second round will entail.
Residents of the enclave have been in dire need of food and medicine, especially since the latest offensive began, which has exacerbated Eastern Ghouta's humanitarian crisis.
Though some aid has previously been allowed in, a 46-lorry aid convoy only included supplies for 27,000 people. Other convoys have not been able to enter due to the government's bombardment campaign that had been ongoing for more than a month.
Thousands of people protested in the Siberian city of Kemerovo on Tuesday, angry at Russian officials over the leisure complex fire that killed at least 64 people, including 41 children.
President Vladimir Putin arrived in Kemerovo earlier on Tuesday and blamed "criminal negligence" for Sunday's blaze.
Relatives say as many as 85 people are still missing, most of them children, according to Interfax news agency.
Investigators say the fire alarm was switched off and exits were blocked.
Several thousand people rallied outside the local government headquarters on Tuesday, demanding that officials be sacked over the fire safety shortcomings.
There were also some chants of "Putin resign!"
The cause of the fire is not yet known, but Russia's Investigative Committee has spoken of "serious violations" at the Winter Cherry mall.
Wednesday (today) is a day of mourning throughout Russia, Mr Putin has decreed.
A woman in the Kemerovo crowd drew applause when she said "children called their parents, asked them for help, asked for the fire brigades to be sent in".
Officials were booed when they urged the crowd to disperse, after the protest had already lasted seven hours, Russia's RIA news agency reported.
Regional deputy governor Sergei Tsivilev then got down on his knees to beg forgiveness, and was applauded by the crowd.
Kemerovo residents' anger has built up since Sunday and it burst forth at the rally of several thousand outside the city administration building.
The main slogans were "Truth!" and "Resign!" - directed at local officials.
The most active among them was Igor Vostrikov, whose wife, sister and three children - aged two, five and seven - all died in the fire.
Deputy governor Sergei Tsivilev accused him of trying to gain publicity out of the tragedy. Igor's reply was that his entire family had suffocated in the cinema, unable to escape because the doors were locked.
Fighting back tears, he described his wife's last moments, when she phoned him, short of breath. "There was no panic - she was saying goodbye."
"I have nothing more to lose," he said.
Dozens of people vowed to stay on the square until governor Aman Tuleyev resigns.
President Putin also expressed indignation over the disaster - though he did not speak to the crowd.
"What is happening here?" he said, after laying a wreath. "This is no battle or an unexpected methane outburst in a mine."
"People, children came to relax. We are talking about demography and are losing so many people because of what? Because of criminal negligence, sloppiness."