White House Says 'Hamas is Responsible' for Israel Killing Palestinians in Gaza

The White House told reporters Monday that Sunni Islamist movement Hamas is responsible for the deaths of Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops during protests in Gaza.

Violent demonstrations have erupted across Israel and the Palestinian territories as the U.S. officially moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed city of Jerusalem, which Palestinians also claim as their capital. Palestinian protestors have thrown stones toward Israeli security forces, who have been shooting back with live rounds, reportedly killing up to 60 Palestinians and injuring over 1,600 more in Gaza, a coastal Palestinian territory administered by Hamas.

When asked by journalists about the U.S. stance on the rising death toll, the highest in one day since the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah responded by saying that "We believe Hamas bears the responsibility."

"Look, this is a propaganda attempt. I mean this is a gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt. I think the Israeli government has spent weeks trying to handle this without violence," Shah said, adding "We believe Hamas is responsible," after being further pressed by a journalist.

RTS1RC4B Palestinian demonstrators run for cover from Israeli fire and tear gas during a protest against the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, an event marking the mass displacement of Palestinians following the 1948 creation of Israel and Arab-Israeli war that ensued, at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip May 14, 2018. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Hamas, an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, was formed in the wake of the First Intifada or "Uprising" in 1987 and has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., Israel and the European Union. It is one of the few groups to have ties to both Sunni Muslim kingdom Saudi Arabia and revolutionary Shiite Muslim Iran, two rival Middle East powers. Hamas took control of Gaza in 2006 following elections that ultimately split the Palestinian territories politically and ideologically, with the left-wing Fatah retaining its authority in the West Bank. 

Israel has blamed Hamas for attacks and other militant activity, including the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory. The group was heavily involved in the Second Intifada of the early 2000s, and on Monday called for a new intifada as "the natural response" to mounting deaths on the border between Israel and Gaza.

Related: Dozens Killed by Israel While Protesting U.S. Jerusalem Embassy Move on Gaza's Bloodiest Day Since 2014 War

Hamas, like many other Palestinian entities, considers the holy city of Jerusalem to be the capital of the U.N.-recognized State of Palestine, but this claim is not fully recognized by the U.S. and Israel. Jerusalem was initially designated an international city, but was split between Israel and Jordan after Israel's 1948 creation and the Arab-Israeli war, which prompted the mass displacement of Palestinians, known as the Nakba. Israel later seized the entire city during the 1967 Six Day War and annexed the eastern half in 1980, a move not recognized internationally and vehemently opposed by Palestinians and most other Arab and Muslim countries.

Upending decades of the status quo, Trump announced in December that he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The U.N. Security Council attempted to condemn the controversial decision, but the U.S. triggered its veto privilege as a permanent member. The U.N. General Assembly then overwhelmingly passed a resolution 128-9 criticizing Trump's declaration.

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