Hamas, the terrorist organization that rules Gaza, is using the unveiling of the American embassy in Jerusalem as an “excuse” to encourage violence, the US State Department said Tuesday.
When pressed by journalists in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert declined to follow other Western countries in calling for restraint from Israel, or even all parties, after 60 Palestinians were killed in violent clashes with Israeli troops on the Gaza border on Monday.
“This is a complex region,” Nauert said.
While asserting that “we regret the loss of life; we regret the loss of all life,” Nauert also reiterated the White House position: “Israel has a right to defend itself.”
Nauert also refused to link the violence with the new American embassy, unveiled Monday after the United States recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.
“We have watched the demonstrations over the past six weeks. These demonstrations are nothing new,” Nauert said. “If Hamas wants to use that as an excuse to rile people up and to encourage violence, that is their choice. It’s an irresponsible choice.”
On Monday, amid an international outcry over the deadly clashes on the Gaza border, the White House fully backed Israel’s response to the riots, while laying the blame squarely on Hamas.
“We’re aware of the reports of continued violence in Gaza today. The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” said Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah.
“Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response and, as the secretary of state said, Israel has the right to defend itself,” he added.
Earlier on Tuesday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Israel had acted with exceptional “restraint” in dealing with the clashes on the Gaza border.
Haley was a rare voice slamming the Hamas terror group and speaking out in favor of Israel at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called over Monday’s deadly fighting.
After ambassadors joined in a rare moment of silence for those killed, Haley said Israel was facing Hamas extremists who incited people who lobbed flaming objects toward the Israeli side of the border fence and urged protest marchers to breach it.
“Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday,” she said.
Rejecting criticism of Israel voiced by other UN ambassadors, Haley said that none of their countries would have acted with the same moderation.
“Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would,” she charged. “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has.”
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said that 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 were wounded on Monday amid the biggest riots and rallies in a weeks-long campaign of protests against Israel, known collectively as the “March of Return.”
Tens of thousands of Palestinians joined Hamas-organized protests on the Gaza border and hundreds of others clashed with Israeli troops on the outskirts of Jerusalem and in other locations in the West Bank, marking the 70th anniversary of what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of Israel’s creation in 1948, as well as protesting the relocation of the US embassy to Israel’s capital on Monday afternoon.
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 had said Sunday that Hamas planned to send armed terrorists through any breach in the fence to “massacre” Israelis.
The Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups acknowledged Tuesday that 13 operatives from the organizations were among the 60 reported killed by IDF fire at the Gaza fence protests a day prior. Israel said at least 24 of the dead were members of terror groups.
Haley insisted the violence had nothing to do with the opening of a US embassy in contested Jerusalem, saying that Gaza’s Hamas rulers have been inciting violence there for years. Palestinians condemned the embassy opening as taking Israel’s side in their conflict.
“Those who suggest the violence has anything to do with the embassy in Jerusalem is sorely mistaken,” she said, “rather it comes from people who will not accept Israel in any part of Israel.”