Hamas warns it will ‘crush’ Israel in future war
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Hamas warns it will ‘crush’ Israel in future war

But hawkish Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, in rare meeting with journalists, says his group is currently uninterested in conflict

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

Yahya Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends the opening of a new mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 24, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
Yahya Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends the opening of a new mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 24, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Hamas’s chief in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, said on Wednesday that his movement was not interested in a war, but added that should a conflict break out, Hamas will “crush” Israel.

“We are not seeking a confrontation with the Israelis, but if there is a confrontation, we will crush them,” Sinwar reportedly said, in his first meeting with journalists since ascending to power six months ago.

Sinwar is considered one of Hamas’s most ruthless leaders. His election as Gaza leader raised fears the terror group in control of the Strip might be more prone to enter into a conflict with Israel.

However, since Sinwar rose to power, he and his deputies have continued to reiterate that their terror group is not currently interested in another war with Israel.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since it took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Sinwar reportedly argued during his meeting with journalists that the reason Israel is not starting a war with Gaza is “fear of the unknown that awaits it,” reported the Palestinian news site Mashreq News.

Militants from the military wing of the Hamas terror group take part in a parade against Israel in Gaza City on July 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Militants from the military wing of the Hamas terror group take part in a parade against Israel in Gaza City on July 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The Israeli military is currently building an above- and below-ground barrier around the Gaza Strip, aimed at countering Hamas tunnels dug into Israel to carry out attacks.

In the past, the military has expressed concerns that the construction of the barrier, which began in earnest this summer, might serve as a catalyst for renewed clashes with Hamas. The terror group sees tunnels as a central weapon in its fight against Israel and the barrier presents a threat to them.

Last week, the IDF revealed the location of two alleged Hamas tunnel sites buried underneath an apartment building and a family home in the northern Gaza Strip, and threatened to blow up both structures despite a desire to avoid civilian casualties.

Sinwar ‘open’ to reconciliation with Abbas

The Hamas Gaza leader, in his meeting with journalists, also stressed that his group would be willing to dissolve the Administrative Committee, a kind of shadow government that has replaced the Palestinian Authority in the Strip.

“Hamas is aware that separation [between Gaza and the West Bank] is suicide for the national project,” reported Mashreq News.

The Administrative Committee was formed by Hamas in March in order to widen its governance in the Strip.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on August 1, 2017 holds a rare meeting in Ramallah with a Hamas delegation, which included former Palestinian education minister Nasser al-Din al-Shaer, and Hamas lawmakers, Mahmoud Al-Ramahi, Mohammad Totah, Ayman Daraghmeh and Samir Abu Eisha (Wafa/ Osama Falah)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on August 1, 2017, right, holds a rare meeting in Ramallah with a Hamas delegation, which included former Palestinian education minister Nasser al-Din al-Shaer, and Hamas lawmakers, Mahmoud Al-Ramahi, Mohammad Totah, Ayman Daraghmeh and Samir Abu Eisha (Wafa/ Osama Falah)

Its formation was the catalyst for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to begin enacting a series of harsh measures against the Gaza Strip aimed at forcing Hamas to cede power in the enclave.

Those measures have included reductions in support payments for electricity, medical aid and governmental salaries for residents of the Strip.

“The easiest thing for us to do would be to dissolve the Administrative Committee, if we were convinced that we would not return to the vicious cycle [Abbas] put us in,” Sinwar reportedly said.

‘Breakthroughs’ with Egypt

Sinwar reportedly told reporters that great “breakthroughs” had been made during recent talks with the Egyptians.

Hamas delegations have traveled a few times to Cairo in recent months in order to improve relations between the sides.

Chief of the Hamas terror group in Gaza Yahya Sinwar (C-L) visits the border with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on July 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Chief of the Hamas terror group in Gaza Yahya Sinwar (C-L) visits the border with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on July 6, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Sinwar reportedly said Egypt has agreed to open the Rafah border crossing after the Eid al-Adha Holiday, which will begin at the end of August.

The Rafah crossing opened for exits this week for the first time since March. If Rafah is closed, only a limited number among the nearly 2 million residents of Gaza can travel out of the Strip through Israel.

Sinwar also reportedly told reporters that Hamas is talking to “more than one party” in order to improve the electricity situation in Gaza.

Currently, after PA cuts to the power flow, Gaza is receiving anywhere between two to six hours a day of electricity.

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