White House: Blame for Gaza violence ‘rests squarely’ with Hamas

Spokesman accuses terror group of ‘intentionally and cynically provoking’ Israeli response to clashes, says peace plan won’t be impacted

White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House, on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)
White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House, on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Amid an international outcry over deadly clashes Monday on the Gaza border, the Trump administration 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.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made no mention of the clashes in an earlier statement praising the opening of the new US Embassy on Monday in Jerusalem and reiterating the US commitment to “advancing a lasting and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Shah said the increased violence would not impact the White House’s peace plan.

“The peace plan will be introduced at the appropriate time,” he said. “What today is about is following through on what the president promised and believes, and is also a recognition of reality,” he added, referring to US President Donald Trump’s fulfillment of his campaign promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

Monday was the deadliest day yet of the weeks-long “March of Return” protest, which has been backed by the Gaza Strip’s terrorist Hamas rulers. The demonstrations culminated Monday as the Palestinians marked the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of Israel’s creation, as well as protesting the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, 55 people were killed in the riots, with over 2,000 injured. Some 40,000 Palestinians took part in the clashes, which the Israel Defense Forces said included three attempted armed attacks on Israeli troops.

Citing Hamas sources, Hadashot TV news said 10 of the terror group’s members were killed in the clashes, including a son of its co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi. The IDF’s spokesman said Hamas deployed 12 separate terrorist “cells” to try to breach the border at different locations, and that all were rebuffed.

Germany, meanwhile, while noting its “dismay and deep concern” over the violence in Gaza, said the protests must not be used as a pretext for violence.

“Israel has the right to defend itself and to guard the fence against a violent intrusion,” the German foreign ministry said, while calling for Israel to exercise “proportionality” in its response.

Berlin also expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, while calling on Hamas to renounce violence and hand over control of the Strip to the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority.

While it did not name either Israel or Hamas as responsible, Canada called the Palestinian civilian deaths “inexcusable.”

“Deeply concerned by violence in Gaza Strip. We are saddened by deaths + injuries that occurred today + over past weeks. It is inexcusable that civilians, journalists + children have been victims. All parties to the conflict have a responsibility to ensure civilians are protected,” said Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Saudi Arabia also condemned Israel’s response to the Gaza clashes, without mentioning the inauguration of the controversial US embassy in Jerusalem.

“Saudi Arabia strongly condemns the Israeli occupation forces’ gunfire against unarmed Palestinian civilians, which has left dozens of dead and wounded,” a Saudi foreign ministry spokesperson said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The spokesperson, quoted by the kingdom’s official SPA press agency, called on the international community to “take responsibility and put an end to the violence against the Palestinians,” noting Riyadh’s support for the “rights of the Palestinian people”.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations, but their ties have improved recently as the two have closed ranks with the US against their shared enemy Iran.

Syria criticized “in the strongest terms” what it called “the brutal massacre” committed by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza.

In a statement Monday, the Syrian foreign ministry held the US administration responsible for the bloodshed, calling its decision to move the embassy “criminal and illegitimate.”

The ministry said the battle of the Palestinian people against Israel is “Syria’s battle,” adding that Israel also supports “terrorists” that operate in Syria.

Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.

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