The 'Great Return' protests are not just another protest by Palestinians against the Israeli occupation, they are a fresh start in the effort to reclaim the long-lost land, Mousa Abu Marzook from the Hamas politburo told RT.
Marzook, a deputy chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, disputed the official Israeli narrative, according to which those who were killed in the protests were met with deadly force because they sought to "infiltrate" Israeli territory.
"First of all, I want to say that all who were killed did not come close to the border fence and did not attempt to take it by storm. They were killed by snipers from a long distance when they were inside the Gaza Strip," Marzook said, adding that the international community must condemn the way the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) handled the mass unrest.
On Friday, the UN Secretary-General called for "an independent and transparent investigation" into the incidents, which saw at least 17 people killed during the clashes. Several Muslim nations, including Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, denounced what they consider to be the "disproportionate force" used by Israel against the largely unarmed protesters. Moscow has also joined in on the criticism, describing the suppression of the protests as an "indiscriminate use of force against civilians."
In addition to those killed, over 1,400 people were injured, roughly half of them with live fire and many with tear gas and rubber bullets, according to the initial figures provided by the Gaza Health Ministry. Ashraf Kidra, the Gaza Health Ministry spokesman, later told Sputnik that at least 36 Palestinian nationals suffered bullet wounds after the IDF opened fire.
By staging the six-week-long 'Great Return' protests, calling for the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes that are now in territory occupied by Israel, the Palestinian people will "send a message that they did not forget their villages and towns, the towns of their fathers and grandfathers," Marzook said.
"They want today's events to become a starting point, and not merely some incident that took place on Land Day," he added. Speaking about the wider implications of Friday's unrest, Marzook argued that in addition to the "message to the world that Palestinians did not forget about their land" they should serve as a "reminder to the whole world that there are UN resolutions, that give Palestinians the right to return to their villages and towns."
Marzook, who has been among senior Hamas leadership since the early 1990s, said that he believes that for the Palestinian cause to succeed, Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries, Europe, the US and other parts of the world should be just as vocal in standing up for their nation's ultimate goal.
"Palestinians now live in Europe, America and in many other countries. They should take action, organize rallies, do what they think is necessary. They need to come back to their country by sea, by air," he said, noting that "it's only the beginning, only a spark."
Israel has dismissed reports that its soldiers have used excessive force when suppressing the demonstrations. Labeling the protests "riots and terrorist attacks," an IDF spokesman said that it "operated in strict accordance with the rules of engagement, firing only when necessary and avoiding civilians strategically placed by Hamas in harm's way," in a statement, cited by the Jerusalem Post. The protesters, he claimed, pelted the Israeli military with rocks, hurled burning tires and firebombs towards them, damaging the fence. He called a video circulating online "Hamas propaganda" for showing a teenager running from the fence and then falling on the ground, supposedly after being hit by a sniper bullet.
RT also spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's foreign media spokesperson, David Keyes, to get Israel's perspective on Friday's events in Gaza. You can watch the full interview here.