The White House blamed Palestinian militant group Hamas after Israeli troops in Gaza shot and killed more than 50 Palestinians during protests over the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Speaking at the daily press briefing, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said that Hamas bears responsibility for the deaths because it planned the protests where Palestinians were shot.
“The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” he said. “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
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At least 52 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured in Gaza Monday as the Trump Administration relocated the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Israeli army said that at least 35,000 Gazans amassed at the border, and that protesters threw Molotov cocktails, burned tires and threw stones at soldiers, according to CNN.
Moving the embassy is “a recognition of reality,” Shah said. “For decades we’ve walked on eggshells pretending Jerusalem isn’t the capital of Israel, when it obviously is.”
Read More: What to Know About the Jerusalem Embassy Opening and the Palestinian Protests
When pressed on whether Israel bears any responsibility for the violence, Shah reiterated, “We believe Hamas bears the responsibility.” He referred to the Palestinian protests as a “rather cynical exploitation of the situation” and “a gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt.”
Shah’s briefing echoed White House senior advisor Jared Kushner’s speech from Israel earlier Monday, when he said the protestors were “part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
Both Kushner and Shah said they don’t think the violence will affect the Trump Administration’s push for peace in the Middle East. “The peace plan will be brought forward at the appropriate time,” Shah said. “The actions today, both the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem and these tragedies in Southern Israel, we don’t think will impact the peace plan.”