Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Thursday denied that his group was behind Wednesday’s bombing attack on a Tel Aviv bus that injured 21 Israelis. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Mashaal also called on the international community to force Israel to accept Palestinians’ national aspirations; otherwise, he warned, Hamas had no alternative but to “resort to resistance.”
He said the Palestinians had been “offering peace,” but also asked, “How can I accept Israel? They have occupied my land.”
Mashaal, who recently relocated from Damascus to Cairo after a falling out with Syria’s President Bashar Assad, claimed that Hamas — which is considered a terror group by Israel, the US and others, has engaged in suicide bombings against Israeli targets for years, and fired hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into Israel during the eight days of the just-ended conflict — did not target Israeli civilians, and that he himself was averse to shedding “any drop of blood.” While both “divine and international law” allow an occupied people to wield whatever weapons are at its disposal to achieve its goals, he said, it was Israel that had “committed massacres.”
The bus bombing in Tel Aviv, he continued, was “part of the massive ramifications” that Israel had suffered as the aggressor in Gaza.
Mashaal claimed that the most recent round of hostilities, which appeared to have ended with a tenuous ceasefire agreement on Wednesday night, was triggered when an Israeli airstrike targeted and killed Hamas’s military leader Ahmed Jabari, and was not something that Hamas wanted.
“I am the leader of Hamas. I tell you through CNN to the whole world: We are ready to resort to a peaceful way, purely peaceful way without blood and weapons,” he continued, “as long as we obtain our Palestinian demands.”
Mashaal repeated the oft-hurled accusation that Israel was behind the death of Yasser Arafat, claiming that the PLO leader — the Palestinian Authority’s first president — was assassinated after he offered peace to the international community. And when current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did the same, he “got turned down,” Mashaal said.
Israel needed to accept “a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital and the ‘right to return’,” Mashaal said. He then added that the entirety of “Palestine… from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is my land.”
He was pressed repeatedly about his stance on Israel’s legitimacy, and responded that he would answer that once Palestine was established. “Don’t ask me when in prison, don’t ask me as a victim about my stand toward Israel.”
Asked whether Hamas’s insistence that Palestinian refugees and their descendants had the right to settle in Israel was an excuse to avoid negotiations with Israel, Mashaal averred that the “majority of Palestinians” around the world wanted to “return.” The fact that Israel welcomed Jewish but not Arab immigrants indicated “a double standard,” he said. The Palestinians claim four or five million refugees and descendants of refugees who lived in what is today Israel have a “right of return” — an influx that would end Israel’s demographic status as a Jewish state.
Israel argues that refugees would need to be absorbed in a Palestinian state, much as Israel absorbed refugees from north Africa and the Middle East. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 earlier this month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he had no territorial demands on pre-1967 Israel, and that he did not personally seek the right to live in his hometown of Safed in northern Israel.