A Hamas official on Wednesday acknowledged that 50 of the 62 Palestinians reported killed during Gaza border riots on Monday and Tuesday were members of the Islamist terrorist group, bringing the total number of known members of terror groups among the fatalities up to 53.
“In the last rounds of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, Fifty of the martyrs were Hamas and 12 from the people. How can Hamas reap the fruits if it pays such an expensive price?” said Hamas official Salah Bardawil in an interview with the Palestinian Baladna news outlet.
Questioned about the figures by the presenter, Bardawil said they were “official.”
“I am giving you an official figure. 50 of the martyrs in the recent battle were from Hamas,” he said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhoum did not confirm all 50 were members of the Islamist movement.
He told AFP Hamas paid for the funerals for all 50 “whether they are members or supporters of Hamas, or unrelated to the factions.”
Bassem Naim, another senior Hamas official, declined to confirm or deny the number but said it was a “large movement and has great popular support.”
It was “natural to see members or supporters of Hamas in large numbers” in such a protest, he said, adding that when they were killed they were “participating peacefully” in demonstrations.
The Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad had said on Tuesday that three members of its Saraya al-Quds military wing were killed by Israeli forces in Khan Younis.
The Israeli military shared a portion of Bardawil’s interview with an Arabic news outlet, accompanied by English captions.
Hamas official, Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil is clear about terrorist involvement in the riots pic.twitter.com/p5My6JGQRr
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) May 16, 2018
“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,” said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 62 people in total were killed during border clashes on Monday and Tuesday.
Israel has not put out its own official death toll, but officials have questioned the accuracy of the Hamas-provided figure. In one case, a Gazan doctor told the Associated Press that an 8-month-old baby, who the Gaza ministry said died after inhaling Israeli tear gas on Monday, had a preexisting medical condition and that he did not believe her death was caused by tear gas.
The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday had said that at least 24 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were killed in day-long clashes Monday. At that stage, Hamas acknowledged 10 of the dead were its members.
The IDF said its number was based on a joint investigation with the Shin Bet security service.
“Most of the people [from terror groups] killed belonged to the Hamas terror group, and some to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” an IDF spokesperson said.
Among the dead, the IDF said on Tuesday, were all eight members of a cell of armed Hamas operatives who were killed in a gun battle as they sought to breach the fence in the northern Gaza Strip.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 60 people were killed in Monday’s demonstrations, most by gunfire, and more than 2,700 were injured. Another two Palestinian men were killed Tuesday as smaller protests broke out in Gaza, the ministry said.
Israel has blamed Hamas for the deadly violence, saying the terror group encouraged and led the protests, which included attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to breach the border fence. The IDF said Sunday that Hamas planned to send armed terrorists through any breach in the fence to “massacre” Israelis.
After the first “March of Return” protests in March, Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities, but it subsequently refrained from acknowledging whether its men were among the dead.
On Thursday, Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar said he hoped to see a mass breach of the Israeli border during Monday’s protests timed to coincide with the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.
Leaders of Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza and seeks Israel’s destruction, have said the protests aim to erase the border and “liberate Palestine.”
Monday’s demonstrations also protested the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, viewed as a major provocation by the Palestinians and the Arab world. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Hamas has said protests would continue in a weekly format, but it was not clear if it would be able to maintain momentum during the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this week.
Agencies contributed to this report