Hamas official says 50 members killed this week on Gaza border

A senior member of Gaza's rulers Hamas said Wednesday that most of the 62 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire during border protests and clashes this week were members of the Islamist group.

Salah Bardawil did not give further details about whether they were members of the group's armed or political wing, or what they were doing at the time they were killed.

"The latest round (Monday and Tuesday), 62 people were killed," he told a Palestinian television show.

"Fifty of the martyrs were Hamas and 12 from the people. How can Hamas reap the fruits if it pays such an expensive price?"

Questioned about the figures by the presenter, Bardawil said they were "official numbers".

Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhoum did not confirm all 50 were members of the Islamist movement.

He told AFP Hamas paid for the funerals for all 50 "whether they are members or supporters of Hamas, or unrelated to the factions."

Bassem Naim, another senior Hamas official, declined to confirm or deny the number but said it was a "large movement and has great popular support".

It was "natural to see members or supporters of Hamas in large numbers" in such a protest, he said, adding that when they were killed they were "participating peacefully" in demonstrations.

Bardawil's statement was highlighted by the Israeli army, which has long argued that Hamas is seeking to use weeks of border protests as cover to carry out attacks.

"Take his word for it. This was no peaceful protest," Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said on Twitter.

Palestinians, including Hamas officials, say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers and there have been international calls for an independent probe into the deaths.

Since protests and clashes began on March 30, 116 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire across the Gaza Strip.

One Israeli soldier has been reported wounded in that time.