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Leave us out of it! Hamas slams Belarus over claims group was behind bomb threat that grounded Ryanair flight carrying activist

Leave us out of it! Hamas slams Belarus over claims group was behind bomb threat that grounded Ryanair flight carrying activist
With fears that the recent conflict in Gaza has sparked a humanitarian crisis, Hamas, its de facto government, has a lot to be concerned about. That might be why it is reluctant to be dragged into a new political row in Europe.

On Tuesday, the Islamist militant group railed against suggestions by authorities in Belarus that it had issued a bomb threat against a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania. The purported security breach was given as a pretext to force the plane to land while it was in Belarusian airspace, after which the editor of a banned opposition-linked Telegram channel, Roman Protasevich, was arrested on the tarmac.

Officials in the capital, Minsk, claimed to have acted after receiving a statement that said, “we, the soldiers of Hamas, demand that Israel ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union withdraw its support for Israel in this war.” Otherwise, the note read, the Ryanair flight would explode over Vilnius.

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Belarus’ embattled leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has since claimed that the notification about the potential threat to the passenger jet came from Switzerland. He said his officials “acted legally, protecting people, in accordance with all international rules.”

“Hamas or no Hamas, it does not matter – the crew had time to make a decision,” he added. Belarus has faced waves of protests since Lukashenko declared victory in last summer's presidential election, and his security forces have since begun a crackdown on demonstrators and the media.

Hamas spokesman Farzi Barhoum told journalists on Monday that the group had no knowledge of or connection to the incident. “We don’t resort to these methods," he told reporters, suggesting that it “could be the doing of some suspicious parties that aim to demonize Hamas and foil the state of world sympathy with our Palestinian people and their legitimate resistance.”

Moscow’s Lenta news site on Tuesday reported exclusive comments from the deputy head of the Palestinian group's political bureau, Musa Abu Marzouk, that appeared to go even further in rejecting the claims. “This is outrageous and demonstrates the archaic thinking” on the part of the Belarusian government, he railed, saying officials do not “understand that we now live in an age of free media, and that there is international public opinion that no longer accepts such methods.”

At the same time, the politician refused to be drawn on the subject of Protasevich’s detention, which several Western nations have described as state-sponsored “piracy.” Marzuk said Hamas was not obliged “to take a position on everything that happens in the world,” insisting that he and his fellow fighters were focused on their pressing conflict with Israel, rather than press freedoms in Eastern Europe.

Hamas is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom and a number of other governments, as well as the EU, although some states only proscribe its military wing, rather than the entire organization. Its previous tactics in the Middle East have included suicide bombings and rocket attacks. Israeli forces launched a series of strikes against its militants and rocket launch sites in Gaza that have killed hundreds of Palestinians. A ceasefire, brokered last week, ended 11 days of violence after foreign governments, including the US and Russia, called for an immediate end to the fighting and civilian casualties.

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