Hamas accused of playing into Israel’s hands in wake of Gaza protest

Critics say the terror group has cast civil demonstrations as armed clashes by naming those of its members who were killed by the IDF

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Gaza's Hamas terrorist rulers released these images of members of its military wing who it acknowledged were among 16 Gazans it said were killed by Israeli fire during clashes along the security fence on Friday, March 30, 2018.  (Hamas)
Gaza's Hamas terrorist rulers released these images of members of its military wing who it acknowledged were among 16 Gazans it said were killed by Israeli fire during clashes along the security fence on Friday, March 30, 2018. (Hamas)

Palestinian analysts and activists on Monday criticized the Hamas terror group for acknowledging some of the Palestinians killed along the Israel-Gaza border in last Friday’s mass demonstrations as members of its military wing, a move the critics argued served Israel.

Hamas made a mistake in rushing to publish old photos of the dead men in military fatigues, thus creating the impression that they had been killed in “armed clashes” between Hamas fighters and the Israel Defense Forces as part of a violent terrorism campaign, the critics said.

Hamas announced shortly after Friday’s clashes that five of the Palestinians killed by IDF gunfire were members of the terror group’s military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. The group published photos of the men wearing combat uniforms and armed with assault rifles.

The five, who were described by Hamas as mujaheddin (warriors), were identified as Jihad Farineh, 35, Mohammed Abu Amru, 27, Ahmed Ibrahim Odeh, 19, Sari Abu Odeh, 27, and Muss’ab Zuheir al Alsaloul, 23.

The Hamas critics also warned against the “militarization” of the “March of Return” — the name given to the protests — arguing that such a move would play into Israel’s hands and damage the Palestinian campaign. The Palestinians say that the Hamas men who killed last Friday were unarmed and were not in uniform.

One veteran Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip told The Times of Israel that Hamas was also facing criticism for holding military funerals and rallies for its men — a move that, he said, created the impression that the men had been killed in armed clashes with the IDF rather than during a peaceful protest by unarmed civilians.

“Many people here feel that Hamas made a mistake,” the journalist said. “Hamas’s actions have created the impression that what happened last Friday was an armed confrontation between its members and the Israeli army. Hamas has done damage to the Palestinian account that states that the demonstrations were peaceful and nonviolent.”

The IDF on Saturday night identified 10 of the 15 people reported killed during violent protests along the Gaza security fence as members of Palestinian terrorist groups, and published a list of their names and positions in the organizations. Palestinian sources later raised the death toll to 16. An 11th fatality was claimed by Islamic Jihad as a member.

According to the IDF, eight of the men killed were members of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, one served in Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and another was affiliated with “global jihad” — an apparent reference to one of the Salafist groups in the coastal enclave.

The army said that at least one of the Hamas members, Sari Abu Odeh, was part of the group’s elite Nukhba force and that another, Mohammad Abu Amro, served in its tunnel operations.

The IDF also identified one of two Hamas members who shot at Israeli soldiers on Friday evening and attempted to breach the security fence, before they were shot dead, as Mussa’b Alsaloul.

Fatalities from the March 30 violence on the Israel-Gaza border identified by Israel as members of terror groups. (Israel Defense Forces)

Palestinian political analyst Hassan Abdo said Hamas had made a mistake when it issued military communiques boasting of the death of its members.

“It was wrong to issue communiques with the photos of the martyrs in military uniform,” Abdo told the Palestinian Quds news agency. “These men were killed during a peaceful civilian march.”

Abdo said that Hamas’s actions made it easy for Israel to say that half of the Palestinians killed last Friday were operatives and leaders in Hamas’s military wing.

Another political analyst, Fahmi Sharab, concurred. “We need to distance ourselves from military manifestations,” he said. “Israel has succeeded in exploiting the photos of the Qassam men who participated in the marches even though they were unarmed.”

Sharab said that it was also wrong for Hamas fighters to approach the security fence because many of them were on Israel’s list of wanted terrorists.

Sharab and other Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stressed the importance of maintaining the “peaceful” nature of the “March of Return” so as not to lose the sympathy of the international community.

Other Palestinians said that Hamas’s actions after Friday’s events showed that the terror group was trying to “hijack” the “March of Return” by making it appear as if it was the sole leader of the protest.

Palestinian protesters pray during a demonstration against Israel along the Gaza Strip border east of Khan Younis, Friday, March 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Referring to Hamas’s public endorsement of its “fighters,” Tawfik Abu Khoussa, a senior Fatah operative and former chairman of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, said, “Some parties that have been trading with the blood of the martyrs and injured quickly tried to add the sacrifices of the victims to their factional balance.”

Abu Khoussa said that even if Hamas’s intentions in endorsing “armed men of the resistance” were genuine, its actions had damaged the Palestinian nonviolent and popular campaign.

By publicly endorsing the victims and glorifying them as fighters, Hamas has also helped Israel’s “propaganda machine in distorting the March of Return in the eyes of the international public opinion by denying its peaceful nature and justifying the killing of the protesters,” he added.

Abu Khoussa also criticized Hamas for holding military services and glorifying only its dead members, while ignoring the other Palestinians who were killed during the Friday’s events.

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