Hamas not seeking war with Israel, political chief says
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Hamas not seeking war with Israel, political chief says

Mashaal claims terror group only interested in defensive measures, even as military wing ratchets up threats; talks with Egypt reportedly fail

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)
Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)

Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal said Monday night that his organization is not seeking another round of conflict with Israel, days after the group’s military wing sent threatening messages to Israelis and warned it could begin taking action against Israel.

Speaking with France 24, Mashaal said that “Hamas is not seeking war. We are eager to avoid it. It is Israel, the occupation that is threatening war now and then,” according to a summary of the interview on the Gaza terror group’s official website.

The comments came, though, as tensions with the Gaza-based terror group have risen after a weekend rocket attack into Israel and an Israeli retaliatory strike that killed two Palestinian children.

After the strike, a Hamas spokesperson said the group’s “patience is wearing thin.”

On Monday night, another rocket was shot, landing in a field near the city of Sderot.

Shortly before the weekend rocket volley, likely shot by a non-Hamas terror group inside the Strip, the Hamas military wing hacked into satellite broadcasts of Israeli TV to show a threatening video.

Israeli officials have also noted an increase in Hamas tunnel-building efforts, some of which may be intended to reach into Israeli territory to carry out attacks.

But Mashaal said violence raging between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and elsewhere was “defensive resistance.”

“We are the victims of Israeli aggression,” he said.

Mashaal argued that the international community has two options: either to help the Palestinian end the “occupation and settlements and put pressure on Israel,” or allow the Palestinians to continue their “resistance,” a euphemism which when used by Hamas usually refers to a violent struggle.

Since the current violence began last October, 29 Israelis and four foreign nationals have been killed in Palestinian terrorism and violence since October. Some 190 Palestinians have been killed, around two-thirds of them while attacking Israelis, and the rest during clashes with troops, according to the Israeli army.

Hamas delegation fails in Egypt

 

Mashaal also denied Egyptian accusations that his group was behind the assassination of Egyptian chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat, as it was reported that talks meant to heal a rift with Cairo had failed.

Mashaal called the claim Hamas was responsible for the June 29, 2015 killing, which has contributed to souring ties, “perplexing.”

Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar speaks during a press conference in Cairo on March 6, 2016, accusing Hamas of involvement in the 2015 killing of the country's top prosecutor Hisham Barakat (AFP / STRINGER)
Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar speaks during a press conference in Cairo on March 6, 2016, accusing Hamas of involvement in the 2015 killing of the country’s top prosecutor Hisham Barakat (AFP / STRINGER)

However, a high-level Egyptian security official told the Ma’an news agency Tuesday that the during the recent meeting, Hamas representatives had failed to convince their Egyptian counterparts of their innocence of the assassination.

Egyptian officials, according to the security source, “presented irrefutable evidence that links members of Hamas with training those accused of killing the attorney general.”

Yet Mashaal did seem to acknowledge recent reports that Hamas was shifting its loyalties toward Saudi Arabia and away from Iran.

“Iran was the primary backer of Hamas, but today our support has changed, and we are seeking to diversify our official and public backers.”

The Hamas political leader, however, denied that relations with Iran were completely severed, saying a few Hamas and Iranian delegations were still in contact.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hosts Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh in Tehran, February 12, 2012 (photo credit: AP)
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hosts Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh in Tehran, February 12, 2012 (photo credit: AP)

Relations between the Gaza-based terror group and Iran have been shaky since the Palestinian organization came out against Syrian President Bashar Assad, a key Iranian ally, and left its headquarters in Damascus with the outbreak of the country’s civil war in 2011.

Security coordination and Palestinian reconciliation

During his interview with France 24, Mashaal criticized the Palestinian Authority’s continuing security cooperation with the Israel, saying it was opposed to Palestinian interests and was “a free service to the occupation.”

The PLO’s central council voted earlier this month to cut security ties with Israel and have the Israel Defense Forces take full responsibility over Palestinian areas. Only Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, however, can end security cooperation with Israel.

It was revealed Monday that secret talks between Israelis and Palestinians to gradually remove the Israeli security presence from some cities in the West Bank failed, with the Palestinians demanding that Israel present a comprehensive timetable for a full cessation of military activities in Palestinian-controlled territories.

(From L to R) Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmad, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pose for a photo as they celebrate in Gaza City on April 23, 2014, after West Bank and Gaza Strip leaders agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)
(From L to R) Palestinian Fatah delegation chief Azzam al-Ahmad, Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk pose for a photo as they celebrate in Gaza City on April 23, 2014, after West Bank and Gaza Strip leaders agreed to form a unity government within five weeks. (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)

Despite friction over security cooperation with Israel, Mashaal said the process for reconciliation between his party and Fatah was moving along.

A meeting between the Hamas leader and Abbas is being planned, which will be followed by a meeting between all the different Palestinian factions to create a “roadmap toward complete reconciliation.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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