Hamas leader pledges to stick by ‘the rifle and the tunnel’
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Hamas leader pledges to stick by ‘the rifle and the tunnel’

Ismail Haniyeh says the issue of incarcerated Palestinians is 'at the top of our priority list'; dozens riot near Israeli border

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh waves to the crowd during an anti-Israel rally on February 26, 2016, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah. (AFP/Said Khatib)
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh waves to the crowd during an anti-Israel rally on February 26, 2016, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Friday the group remained committed to armed struggle against Israel, in a speech he made ahead of Prisoners’ Day, observed by the terror organization next week.

Speaking at a rally in the Gaza Strip, Haniyeh said, “Our message to the prisoners is a message inked in blood. The rifle and the tunnel are our commitment.

“The issue of prisoners is at the top of our priority list. As time passes, we stick to our principles, and the people who walk in the path of martyrs and prisoners also stick with us.”

Later Friday several dozen people rioted near the security fence on the Gaza border, and hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers. Soldiers responded with non-lethal means. They also shot at the lower body of one demonstrator.

On Thursday, an IDF officer said both sides were preparing for a future conflict, and while neither side was interested in renewing violence, a miscalculation on either side could bring about another round of fighting.

“Hamas suspects that we will initiate offensive action against it by surprise, and so the fear of miscalculation exists,” the officer was quoted by the Hebrew website Ynet as saying. “Their level of sensitivity to our public proclamations is high. Hamas saw [the months of violent attacks] in the West Bank as a strategic opportunity, even at the cost of deterioration in Gaza, and the movement is disappointed with the drop in the number of terror attacks. Since October, 17 Palestinians were killed in border fence riots and some 800 were wounded,” the officer said.

The terror group has been investing considerable resources in the Nukhba force, an elite unit of fighters. According to Ynet the number of Hamas fighters in the unit has grown to 5,000 people – a quarter of the group’s fighting manpower.

On the other hand, the group’s development and construction of rockets has been severely damaged by Egypt’s closing of smuggling tunnels. Hamas has been finding it difficult to restore its array of short and medium-range projectiles since the end of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.

Speaking earlier this week at a forum dedicated to the situation in Gaza at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, director of the Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau Amos Gilad said that the Hamas armed wing, led by Muhammed Deif, ultimately paid no heed to the political wing, headed by Haniyeh.

Gilad opined, however, that conflict would not erupt this year between Israel and Hamas.

“The good news is that our deterrence is still working. They say that there will be a ‘hot’ summer. That’ll only be because of the high temperatures,” Gilad said, alluding to the tendency for regional conflicts to take place in warmer summer months.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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