Ha­mas: Many slain pro­test­ers were ours

TV in­ter­view: 50 killed on Mon­day be­longed to group

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Tia Gold­en­berg and Fares Akram

State­ment deep­ens con­trast with Is­rael’s ac­count; rights groups take dif­fer­ent view.

JERUSALEM — Most of the pro­test­ers killed this week by Is­raeli fire along the border with the Gaza Strip were mem­bers of Ha­mas, the mil­i­tant group said Wed­nes­day, an as­ser­tion that deep­ens the starkly dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tives on both sides over the deaths.

Is­rael, which has faced blis­ter­ing in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism over its re­sponse, is likely to latch on to the re­marks to bol­ster its claims that Ha­mas has used the weekly border protests as cover to stage at­tacks.

But hu­man rights groups say the iden­tity of slain pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing a pos­si­ble af­fil­i­a­tion to a mil­i­tant group, is ir­rel­e­vant if they were un­armed and did not pose an im­me­di­ate threat to the lives of sol­diers when they were shot.

In an in­ter­view with Bal­adna TV, a pri­vate Pales­tinian news out­let that broad­casts via Face­book, Ha­mas se­nior of­fi­cial Salah Bar­dawil said 50 out of the nearly 60 pro­test­ers killed Mon­day were Ha­mas mem­bers, with the oth­ers be­ing “from the peo­ple.”

Bar­dawil did not elab­o­rate on the na­ture of their mem­ber­ship in the group, and his claim could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied. It was un­clear if the pro­test­ers he was re­fer­ring to were mil­i­tants or civil­ian sup­port­ers of the group, which rules Gaza and op­poses Is­rael’s ex­is­tence.

For Is­rael, it was enough to ce­ment its nar­ra­tive.

“It was clear to Is­rael and now it is clear to the whole world that there was no pop­u­lar protest. This was an or­ga­nized mob of ter­ror­ists or­ga­nized by Ha­mas,” said Is­raeli Foreign Min­istry spokesman Em­manuel Nahshon.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Is­rael had tal­lied num­bers sim­i­lar to Ha­mas and “won’t let those who call for our de­struc­tion to breach our borders and to threaten our com­mu­ni­ties.”

In re­sponse to the up­roar over his re­marks, Bar­dawil later said in a state­ment that Is­rael was “le­git­imiz­ing the killing of Pales­tini­ans just be­cause they are Pales­tini­ans or just be­cause they are Ha­mas, even if they were un­armed and defending their dig­nity and rights.”

Or­ga­niz­ers say the wave of border protests is meant in large part to break a decade-old block­ade im­posed by Is­rael and Egypt and pres­sure Is­rael to ease its re­stric­tions. Since the Ha­mas-led protests be­gan March 30, more than 110 Pales­tini­ans have been killed and more than 2,500 wounded by live fire, ac­cord­ing to the Pales­tinian Health Min­istry. Pales­tinian of­fi­cials say the vast ma­jor­ity of the ca­su­al­ties have been un­armed pro­test­ers. One Is­raeli sol­dier has been wounded.

The weekly protests peaked on Mon­day when about 40,000 Gaza res­i­dents de­scended on the border area. Smaller groups of pro­test­ers broke away and moved closer to the border fence, burn­ing tires, throw­ing stones or hurl­ing fire­bombs. Some tried to at­tack the border fence.

Is­raeli snipers, perched be­hind sand berms, opened fire from the other side of the fence, killing 59 Pales­tini­ans and wound­ing hun­dreds. Two more peo­ple were killed Tues­day.

On Tues­day, the army re­leased a video that ap­peared to show pro­test­ers det­o­nat­ing sev­eral ex­plo­sions near the border. It also said its forces had killed a squad of Ha­mas gun­men who opened fire at troops.

ARIF ALI/GETTY-AFP

Out­rage over deaths in Gaza at the hands of Is­rael roiled La­hore, Pak­istan, where pro­test­ers burned a U.S. flag.

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