UPDATES WITH QUOTE FROM PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON
WASHINGTON (AA) - UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres voiced strong disapproval Thursday over the "tragic loss of lives" in the Gaza Strip after Israel killed scores of Palestinian demonstrators earlier in the week.
"My first words are to deplore the tragic loss of lives and suffering in Gaza and to express my deep sadness and condolences to the Palestinian people," Guterres said in a statement read by Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette at the UN's New York headquarters.
"Israeli forces must exercise maximum restraint in the use of force, in particular live fire. Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations have a responsibility to prevent all violent actions," Guterres said.
"It is imperative that everyone show the utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life, including all civilians and particularly children are not in harm’s way. The cycle of violence in Gaza must end, it serves no one."
On Monday, at least 62 Palestinian demonstrators were martyred and thousands more injured by Israeli armed forces along the Gaza-Israel fence, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
However, the Pentagon on Thursday justified the Israeli violence against Palestinians.
"Israel has the right of self-defense and it has the right to protect its border," Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said in response to a question if the Pentagon justifies the civilian casualties.
She also said the number of Marine security guards at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem had been increased.
Thousands of Palestinians had gathered on the Gaza Strip’s eastern border to take part in protests marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel -- which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, Arabic for "Catastrophe" -- and protest the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Since the Gaza rallies began on March 30, more than 100 Palestinian demonstrators have been martyred by Israeli army gunfire.
Last week, the Israeli government claimed the ongoing border protests constitute a “state of war” in which international humanitarian law does not apply.