Hamas Denies Belarusian “Bomb Threat” As EU Moves Towards Sanctions

A Hamas senior official has denied the Belarusian government’s claims that the Gazan organization had sent a bomb threat that supposedly forced Ryanair Flight FR4978 to divert to Minsk.

Speaking to Lenta.ru, Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, said that the accusation made by Belarus’ transport ministry were “outrageous” and demonstrated the “archaic thinking” of Minsk. He said that the Belarusia government has failed to understand the current era of media freedom, and that public opinion no longer accepts “such methods”.

Abu Marzouk stopped short of issuing a concrete statement on the detention of journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega following the airliner’s landing in Minsk, saying that they were not obligated to take a stance on “everything that happens in the world”, given how Hamas’ priority is fighting the “Israeli occupation”. However, he did say that “we are generally against injustice, persecution, encroachment on freedom and violation of the law”, something that would come as a surprise to the families of Fatah members thrown off rooftops or executed in the streets during Hamas’ 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas’ comments on Minsk come as the European Union agreed on Monday to ban Belarusian airlines from flying over EU countries in retaliation for the hijacking, alongside issuing a call for EU airlines to avoid overflying the country. Options for further sanctions are now under discussion, with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying to journalists Tuesday that “any dictator toying with such ideas must be made to understood that they will pay a bitter price”.

Protasevich has since appeared on Belarusian state TV. In a video, he said that he was in good health, and was being held in a pre-trial detention facility in Minsk. He said that he was being treated well by the staff of the detention facility despite what appeared to be some marks on his face, and confessed to “having organized mass unrest in the city of Minsk”.

The United Nations’ human rights office today issued a statement calling for the immediate release of Protasevich and Sapega, saying that there was a “strong likelihood” that Protasevich’s statement had been made under duress. The manner of the hijacking of the flight is said by the office to be “tantamount to an extraordinary rendition” and deserving of the “strongest condemnation”.