In a defiant appearance broadcast live from Qatar, Hamas’s political leader Khaled Mashaal said Wednesday evening that his Islamist movement would not agree to an interim ceasefire in Gaza followed by negotiations on its demands, as proposed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
He asserted that while the United States had promised Hamas guarantees that its concerns would be addressed once a truce was declared, such promises had been made in the past and were “not reassuring.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that Israel wants to see Hamas disarmed after the conclusion of the war, but Mashaal said his movement would only lay down its weapons if Israel, too, disarmed and ended the occupation.
He also reiterated Hamas’s demand that the blockage on Gaza be lifted, and called for urgent humanitarian assistance from the Arab world. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, to prevent the smuggling of weaponry.
Asked to address reports that a ceasefire with Israel was imminent, Mashaal said that “there has been progress but no breakthrough that will lead us to the basis for an agreement.”
He justified the indiscriminate targeting of Israel with rockets — more than 2,000 have been fired from Gaza al over Israel in the past 16 days — by claiming that Israelis were not civilians but rather armed settlers. He called for the release of prisoners, an end to peace negotiations, and a halt to Palestinian security coordination with Israel.
“Our victims are civilians and theirs are soldiers,” he charged. “We are the victims, despite our steadfastness.”
Criticizing the United States, Mashaal reported that US Secretary of State John Kerry, who’s in the region to help broker a ceasefire, had contacted his Qatari and Turkish counterparts, asking them to pressure Hamas into accepting a ceasefire, only to produce an agreement with Egypt without consulting Hamas and the other armed Palestinian factions, including Islamic Jihad.
Mashaal said that it was Kerry’s right to visit Ramallah and discuss a ceasefire with Abbas, but called on him to come to Gaza.
“That’s where the decision is made on the ground,” he said.