Australia’s prime minister has blamed the extremist Sunni-Islamic militant and political group Hamas for the deaths of more than 50 Palestinians under Israeli fire along the Israel-Gaza border.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Melbourne Radio 3AW: “Hamas’ conduct is confrontational. They’re seeking to provoke the Israeli defense forces.”
Turnbull says: “They’re pushing people to the border. In that conflict zone, you’re basically pushing people into circumstances where they are very likely to be shot at.”
Palestinian Health Ministry officials said at least 59 Palestinians who approached the Israel-Gaza border fence were killed on Monday and 2,700 injured by live gunfire, tear gas or other means.
It is estimated that 35,000 Palestinians gathered along the fence on May 14. While most of the protestors were peaceful, organisers had been urging others to burst through the fence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was acting to protect its border as members of the ruling Hamas group attempted to breach the fence.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joined France and Germany to call on Israel to be proportionate in its response and refrain from excessive use of force, and also recognised Israel’s need to protect its population.
She added, “Australia urges Palestinian protesters to refrain from violence and attempting to enter into Israeli territory during the March of Return.” The “Great March of Return” for the Palestinians started seven weeks ago, organized in part by Hamas.
The confrontation on May 14 – one day before the 70th Palestinian anniversary of Nakba or the “catastrophe” on May 15, 1948, when Palestinians fled their homes in the Arab–Israeli war – has been the deadliest since the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014.
Hamas has worked for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state since 1987 when the group was first founded as a military arm of the Moslem Brotherhood. It has since become notorious for its violence directed at both Israelis and Palestinians who “collaborate” with Israel or those who “act contrary to Islamic values.”
Hamas led suicide attacks on Israel in the 1990s and 2000s, and more recently, has been launching rocket and mortar bombs across the Gaza border.
Hamas came to power after winning a slight majority of seats in the 2006 Palestinian Authority legislative elections. But there remains no unified Palestinian authority after tensions between Hamas and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) escalated to a factional war in 2007, when Hamas took control of Gaza, further complicating the process for peace talks.