A Hamas official said Thursday the group was hopeful an emerging deal to restore ties between Israel and Turkey will result in the construction of a port for the impoverished Gaza Strip.
Turkey has said it will not normalize ties with Israel, ruptured in 2010, without Gaza’s blockade being lifted or at least eased. Hamas hopes a seaport might be built if Israel does lift its restrictions. Israel maintains the blockade to prevent Hamas, which seeks to destroy it, from importing weapons. Egypt is also blockading its side of Gaza.
If the blockade is not lifted, “Gaza will explode,” said the official, Mushir al-Masri.
An Israeli official said defense officials have discussed the possibility of a port for Gaza but no decisions have been made. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media, refused to say what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position was on the issue.
There was no immediate comment from Turkey.
Masri’s comment follows on the heels of similar statements in recent days.
On February 19, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, said in a sermon at Muslim prayers in the Shati refugee camp where he lives that there had been “a lot of progress on the issue of the port of Gaza” in the recent talks between Israel and Turkey. He did not elaborate.
On Thursday, a senior figure in the terror group told foreign journalists in Gaza that Hamas does not want a new war with Israel and the tunnels it is digging into the Jewish state’s territory and Egypt are purely “defensive.”
Mahmoud al-Zahar, a hardliner who co-founded Hamas and belongs to the organization’s leadership in Gaza, also reiterated the movement’s long-standing refusal to ever recognize Israel, Reuters said.
“We are not looking for any confrontation with Israel, but if they are going to launch an aggression, we have to defend ourselves,” Zahar said.
On the subject of Hamas’s tunnel-building program, he said: “You are speaking about tunnels? You are not speaking about F-35 (fighter planes)? You are not speaking about the nuclear bomb in Israel… The tunnels are a matter of self-defense.”
Hamas’s media outlets have been publishing videos almost daily showing — essentially mocking — Israeli engineering equipment digging on the border in an effort to locate the tunnels.
Earlier this month, Zahar boasted that “the tunnels reach deep into the territory occupied in 1948…They reach beyond Gaza.”
Later, however, he toned down the rhetoric, saying the tunnels were defensive and for “the protection of our people in the face of any Israeli aggression.”
During the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, Palestinian gunmen emerged from the tunnels on several occasions to ambush IDF soldiers, killing several.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu told leaders of Israeli communities around the Gaza Strip that the army has been employing the latest technology and that a budget has been earmarked to put a stop to the threat of attack tunnels emanating from the coastal Palestinian territory.