Exiled Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal threatened to resume fighting Israel if the Palestinians demands were not met and said Gaza will never disarm its “sacred” weapons.
“The rockets and tunnels exist; if the negotiations fail and there is a need, we will return to resistance until we reach our goals,” he said Thursday at a press conference in Qatar.
Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups reached an open-ended ceasefire deal with Israel on the 50th day of Operation Protective Edge.
Under the deal — in a move which went into effect early on Wednesday — Israel agreed to lift restrictions on fishing, allowing boats to work up to six nautical miles from the shore.
It also pledged to ease restrictions at two of the crossings into Gaza — Erez and Kerem Shalom — to allow the supervised entry of goods, humanitarian aid and construction materials, in a move which began Thursday.
But debate on crunch issues such as Hamas’s demands for a wider lifting of the blockade — imposed by Israel and Egypt to prevent Hamas importing weaponry — as well as for a port and an airport, and the release of prisoners, as well as Israel’s calls to demilitarize Gaza, have been postponed for another month until the sides resume talks in Cairo.
Mashaal adamantly rejected the calls to disarm the Gaza terror group.
“The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that they be on the agenda” of future negotiations with Israel, he said.
Israel has consistently linked the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, parts of which were devastated during the 50-day war with Hamas that ended on Tuesday, to the territory’s demilitarization.
But Mashaal insisted that Hamas will not lay down its arms.
“The issue is not up for negotiations. No one can disarm Hamas and its resistance,” he stated.
Mashaal called on his “Egyptian brothers” to open the Rafah Border Crossing, praising the Egyptian role in mediating the ceasefire between the two sides.
“The people of Gaza paid an ultimate, dear price and stood their ground on their rights and demands,” he said.
The ceasefire deal was reportedly imposed upon Mashaal by leaders of the terror group based in the Gaza Strip, who insisted on reaching a deal.
Mashaal was intent on continuing the fight until Israel either agreed to his demands or took out Hamas, but eventually was pressured into accepting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, which did not immediately address any of Hamas’s demands, by Hamas political leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh and political rivals Mahmoud al-Zahar and Moussa Abu Marzouk, wrote Hamas scholar Shlomi Eldar in al-Monitor on Thursday.
Operation Protective Edge has created a power vacuum in the Hamas leadership, Eldar wrote, and Mashaal is unlikely to survive challenges.
And now, for all of Mashaal’s bravado in internationally televised speeches and interviews, his rivals in Gaza are the ones taking credit for the “victory” and leading celebrations with the people in the coastal enclave, Eldar noted.
Meanwhile, al-Zahar has actually become better than Mashaal at his own job — bringing in money, Eldar wrote. While the political leadership quarreled with Iran over Syria, al-Zahar maintained his connections in Tehran, garnering donations that he funneled to the military wing.
Eldar added, however, that the politics could easily end up being a sideshow, as the entity that has gained the most power from this round of fighting is the military wing and its leader Muhammad Deif, who — assuming he is still alive — is the one who will truly decide whether Tuesday’s long-term truce will last.
On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded that he could not yet guarantee Israel’s military operation would ensure long-term quiet, but said that if Hamas resumes its fire, the IDF will strike back “sevenfold.”
AFP contributed to this report.