Israel carried out airstrikes on Hamas sites in Gaza early Thursday, hours after the militant organization said most of the protesters killed by Israeli fire this week were its members.
Salah Bardawil, a senior Hamas official, told Palestinian news outlet Baladna TV that 50 out of the 60 who died on Monday were members of his organization, while the rest were civilians. Hamas won elections in 2006 and has run Gaza since the end of a violent power struggle the following year.
Israel has long argued that Hamas has used the protests, which began on March 30, as cover to for terrorist attacks or attempts to infiltrate its border.
Human rights groups say an affiliation with a militant group is irrelevant if they were unarmed and did not pose an immediate threat to the lives of soldiers when they were shot.
Bardawil did not elaborate on whether the 50 were fighters or associates, and his number could not be verified. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that his country's military had “similar figures” and would continue its action along the border.
“They are not defending us from some civilian demonstrations,” he wrote. “This is a warlike move by Hamas. That is why Israel will continue to defend itself for as long as necessary and will not allow those who call for its destruction to storm its borders and threaten our communities.”
The Israeli Defense Forces said fighter jets struck at four Hamas targets in northern Gaza overnight, including “a weapons production facility.”
It said the raids were in response to the “heavy machine gun fire that targeted the city of Sderot and the numerous shooting attacks that targeted IDF soldiers throughout the day.”
The Palestinian health ministry said a man was moderately wounded by shrapnel. More than 100 people have been killed and around 12,300 others wounded since the border protests began on March 30, according to the ministry.
Protesters are demanding that Israel allows the millions of Palestinians whose families left or were forcibly removed from Israel at its founding to return. Refugees and their descendants make up more than two-thirds of Gaza's population.
The deadliest demonstrations came on Monday and coincided with the U.S. moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — reflecting the Trump administration's recognition of that city as the capital of Israel.
President Donald Trump's decision breaks with decades of U.S. policy and distances Washington from its allies. Palestinians also consider Jerusalem their capital.
There were protests Thursday outside many U.S. embassies and consulates around the world — including in New Delhi, Hong Kong, Manila and Istanbul — over America's support for Israel.
Meanwhile, a diplomatic spat between Israel and Turkey over the killing of protesters deepened after Natanyahu’s son, Yair, reportedly posted a meme on his Instagram account that said: “F*** Turkey.”
It follows tensions on Tuesday when Ankara ordered Israel’s ambassador to leave for 60 days, and on Wednesday when the diplomat was filmed by Turkish media being frisked by airport security as he departed.