A senior Hamas official said Wednesday that 50 of the 62 Palestinians reported killed in riots at the Israel-Gaza Strip border on Monday and Tuesday were members of the Islamist terrorist group.
"In the last rounds of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, 50 of them were Hamas," Dr. Salah Albardawil said in an interview with an Arabic news outlet, according to the Times of Israel. Albardawil was responding to a question about Hamas sending kids to die in the border riots as political fodder.
The Israel Defense Forces tweeted out that portion of Bardawil's interview with English subtitles.
Hamas official, Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil is clear about terrorist involvement in the riots pic.twitter.com/p5My6JGQRr
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) May 16, 2018
IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus described Albardawil's statement as proof that Hamas, which controls Gaza, is behind the violent Palestinian demonstrations at Israel's border.
"This proves what so many have tried to ignore: Hamas is behind these riots, and the branding of the riots as 'peaceful protests' could not be further from the truth," he said.
Albardawil's comments came three days after another senior Hamas official, Mahmoud al-Zahhar, said that the ongoing demonstrations are "not peaceful resistance," but rather supported by the group's "military force."
Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian terrorist group, told Haaretz that three of the 62 killed were members of its military wing.
"This does not authorize the Israeli army to slaughter them. Did anyone of them carry a weapon or endanger a soldier?" an Islamic Jihad official said.
The IDF had said Tuesday that at least 24 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were killed in clashes Monday.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 62 people in total were killed in this week's riots.
Over the past seven weeks, thousands of Palestinians have gathered at the Gaza border for what organizers call the "March of Return," and clashed with Israeli soldiers. This week's demonstrations were the bloodiest to date and occurred as the U.S. embassy in Israel officially moved to Jerusalem on Monday, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel.
During the riots, some Palestinians, including terrorist operatives, attacked Israeli soldiers with Molotov cocktails and other weapons, and they tried to breach the border fence. Israel received international criticism for killing dozens of Palestinians during the riots, but the White House said responsibility for any bloodshed laid with Hamas.
On Tuesday, Israel delivered trucks full of medical supplies and humanitarian aid to Gaza, but Hamas turned away large quantities of the aid. A day earlier, Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main entry point for goods and aid entering Gaza, after Palestinian rioters set it ablaze and caused millions in damage in an earlier round of demonstrations.