(CNSNews.com) – Israel stands accused of massacring “Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest” along the Gaza-Israel border this week, but a senior member of Hamas told Palestinian television on Wednesday that 50 of the 62 Palestinians killed in the rioting were members of the terrorist organization.
Salah Al-Bardawil, a member of Hamas’ Politburo, was defending his group against claims that it was reaping the benefits of the border protest campaign while ordinary Palestinians were paying the price.
“People are saying that children are dying and that Hamas is reaping the fruits,” said the interviewer on the Gaza-based Baladna television network.
“In the last round, there were 62 martyrs,” replied Bardawil, citing the same figure that the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza has given for the number of people killed in clashes along the border on Monday and Tuesday.
“Fifty of the martyrs were from Hamas,” Bardawil continued, “and the other 12 were regular people. So how can anyone claim that Hamas is reaping the fruits, when it paid such a steep price? What did Hamas gain? Fifty martyrs—”
“This figure is—” the interviewer interjected.
“I am giving you an official figure,” said Bardawil. “Fifty of the martyrs in the recent battle were from Hamas. Before that, at least 50 percent of the martyrs were from Hamas. So what did Hamas gain from this?”
Baladna posted the full Arabic interview on YouTube. The exchange about the number of “martyrs” was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Hamas has been a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) since 1997.
Commenting on Bardawil’s remarks, Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Jonathan Conricus tweeted, “Take his word for it. This was no peaceful protest.”
Earlier the IDF reported that, based on a joint investigation with intelligence services, “at least 24 terrorists with documented terror background” were among those killed.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another Iran-backed terrorist group in Gaza, also designated as an FTO since 1997, announced that three of its fighters were killed in Monday’s clashes.
Israel is facing international condemnation over the loss of life that occurred when tens of thousands of Palestinians tried to breach the border in the culmination of a six-week Hamas-instigated campaign dubbed the “great march of return.”
Ahead of Monday’s events, Israel said Hamas in statements and social media sought to incite Palestinians to use violence, not only against soldiers guarding the border but also against Israeli communities located nearby.
The IDF says troops fired only on individuals “carrying out terrorist activity,” while “demonstrators” were dispersed using tear gas.
The Hamas-run health ministry said at least six of the dead were minors and that more than 2,700 people were injured.
The White House said responsibility for the deaths “rests squarely with Hamas,” and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also sided with Israel, accusing the terrorist group of “pushing people into circumstances where they are likely to be shot.”
But most governments are blaming Israel. Numerous countries summoned Israeli ambassadors to deliver protests and South Africa and Turkey withdrew their envoys from Israel. (Turkey said it would also recall its ambassador from the United States, to protest the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.)
At the United Nations, the U.S. blocked a Kuwait-drafted statement which said, “The [U.N.] Security Council expresses its outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest.”
U.N. human rights officials accused Israel of “outrageous human rights violations,” several European governments called for an independent investigation, and international bodies including the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation are meeting to formulate responses.
The Hamas campaign was designed from the outset to reach a climax on Monday’s 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, and Tuesday’s annual day marking what Palestinians call the “naqba” (“catastrophe”).
Even so, many sought to blame the United States, charging that the opening on Monday of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was responsible in part for the rioting in Gaza.
The Trump administration says relocating the embassy – in line with long-waived U.S. law – was simply recognizing reality, and that it does not prejudge final status issues in any future peace deal.
The Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of an envisaged independent state.