Hamas: Most protesters slain in Gaza were its members
JERUSALEM — Most of the protesters killed this week by Israeli gunfire along the Gazan border 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, pointed to the remarks to support 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.
In an interview with Baladna TV, a private Palestinian news outlet that broadcasts via Facebook, senior Hamas 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 Islamic group, which rules Gaza and opposes Israel’s existence.
The affiliation may matter little to those who have deemed Israel’s response to the protests to be heavy-handed. For Israel, it became evidence.
“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.
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.”
Israel on Wednesday welcomed another embassy in Jerusalem just two days after the landmark move by the United States.
The ribbon cutting by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales marked the first nation to join the United States in making the move to Jerusalem and formally recognizing the contested city as Israel’s capital.
Similar to the U.S. Embassy inauguration, the Guatemalan event brought Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and prominent international supporters of Israel, including GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and a smattering of evangelical leaders.
The Guatemalan affair was more lowkey by comparison; its new office was barely big enough to hold all the guests.
Information from The Washington Post was included in this report.