Defense minister’s office clarifies: Not all Gazans killed on fence were Hamas

Liberman had said Hamas ‘sustained 168 deaths’ in border clashes, but meant this in terror group’s role as ruler of the Strip, not that all dead were members

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference on July 19, 2018. (Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference on July 19, 2018. (Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office on Monday evening clarified a statement made earlier in the day, in which he appeared to say that every Palestinian killed by Israel in the Gaza Strip in the past four and a half months was a member of the Hamas terrorist group.

“Since the start of the ‘March of Return’ events, Hamas has sustained 168 deaths, 4,348 injured, and dozens of terror facilities destroyed,” Liberman said on Monday morning, referring to a series of organized protests and clashes along the Gaza border.

When asked, a spokesperson for the defense minister initially told The Times of Israel that Liberman’s intention was indeed that all 168 people killed were Hamas members. However, on Monday evening, his office clarified that the minister had meant only that Hamas had “sustained” the casualties as the ruler of the Gaza Strip, ostensibly responsible for the well-being of its residents.

Since March, there have been near-weekly violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border supported by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, as well as rocket and mortar attacks on Israel and retaliatory IDF airstrikes. The deadly border clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. Last month, an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper.

In response, IDF troops have used tear gas and live rounds against rioters deemed legitimate targets, under the military’s rules of engagement.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot during clashes along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, on August 10, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

The Israeli military has never said that everyone killed in clashes and riots along the border were members of Hamas. Senior officers have noted that while most of the fatalities were members of Hamas and other terror groups, many of the deaths were not deliberate, but were the result of shots that missed their mark and other unintended consequences of using live fire.

The Israeli government rarely releases official tallies of the number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip.

The defense minister did not indicate how he had arrived at the figures he cited on Monday. The number of people killed matches that of the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The number of people injured is slightly lower than the current Palestinian-supplied toll, but is the same as a figure released by the health ministry earlier this month.

Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members or belonged to other Gaza terror groups.

However, Gaza’s health ministry also includes in its list of casualties a 23-year-old pregnant woman and her 18-month-old daughter, who Palestinian officials say were killed in an Israeli airstrike during last week’s flareup. Three Palestinian medics have also been reported killed, including 21-year-old female medic Razan al-Najjar.

Soon after the start of the March of Return protests, Liberman indicated that everyone killed was a connected to the Hamas terror group.

“It has to be understood that there are no innocent people in Gaza,” Liberman said in an April radio interview. “Everyone is affiliated with Hamas, they are all paid by Hamas, and all the activists trying to challenge us and breach the border are operatives of its military wing.”

A statement later released by the Defense Ministry said “innocent” was the wrong translation: “The defense minister in the interview meant the word tamim (naive). Any other translation is mistaken.”

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