The titular head of Hamas’s military wing sent out a fiery missive Tuesday night, claiming his forces are “eager for death” and saying the terror group would not cease fighting until Israel lifted its blockade on Gaza.
“Israeli soldiers are up against soldiers who are eager for death and united forces,” Mohammed Deif said in a recorded message broadcast on Hamas’s al-Aqsa TV. “The steadfastness of the Palestinian people is what will bring victory on the battlefield. The enemy is sending its soldiers to certain disaster.”
Deif’s voice was recognizable in the audio statement. He has survived repeated Israeli assassination attempts, leaving him limbless, and has operated from hiding for years.
Deif has headed Hamas’s Izz ad-Dine al-Qassam Brigades since 2012, though many analysts believe the group is actually controlled by his Number 2, Marwan Issa.
Despite reports earlier Tuesday that Hamas political head Khaled Mashaal had approved a 24-hour humanitarian truce, Deif said the group would not stop fighting until Israel ended it’s blockade of the Palestinian enclave, echoing statements from Hamas spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri
“No ceasefire in Gaza before ending [the Israeli] aggression and lifting the siege,” Deif said. “We will not accept any compromises.”
Al-Aqsa also broadcast a videotape it said showed an infiltration by Hamas fighters into Israel on Monday through a border tunnel which resulted in five killed soldiers.
At least 1,210 Palestinians have been killed, including 109 on Tuesday, and 7,000 wounded since the start of fighting July 8, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Qidra. Hundreds of those have been Hamas fighters.
Israel has lost 55 soldiers, two civilians and a Thai national in three weeks of fighting to stymie Gazan rocket fire and destroy tunnels used to infiltrate into Israel.
Born in Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip in 1965, Deif became commander of the Al-Qassam Brigades in July 2002, following Israel’s assassination of his commander Salah Shehadeh.
Deif’s ascension was the result of years of terrorist activities in Gaza and the West Bank, including the kidnapping and killing of Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman in 1994 and the dispatch of suicide bombers to two Jerusalem buses in February and March 1996.
Deif’s oversight of a series of terrorist attacks saw him become a prime Israeli target over the past two decades.
His injuries marginalized him, but some members of the Israeli security establishment believe he regained command of the Brigades following the assassination of Ahmad Jabari in November 2012, a targeted killing that marked the start of Operation Pillar of Defense.
Elhanan Miller and AP contributed to this report.