As Hamas politicos laud truce, armed wing prepares for battle
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As Hamas politicos laud truce, armed wing prepares for battle

On first anniversary of war, group’s overtures should be taken more seriously than its belligerence, Gaza professor says

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian youths take part in a graduation ceremony after being trained at Hamas-run 'pioneers of liberation' camps in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, January 29, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian youths take part in a graduation ceremony after being trained at Hamas-run 'pioneers of liberation' camps in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, January 29, 2015. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A day after Hamas’s armed wing announced the development of two new rocket models manufactured to hit Israel, a senior leader in the movement said his group would like to see the ceasefire with the Jewish state “solidified” in return for Israeli concessions in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Speaking to the Quds Press news agency on Thursday, Gaza-based leader Salah Bardawil said that “intensive” efforts were underway to solidify the ceasefire reached with Israel last summer following Operation Protective Edge, in return for the construction of a sea port and airport, the opening of border crossings and the acceleration of reconstruction efforts in Gaza.

Bardawil said that there has been no discussion of a new deal. While he did not specify the identity of the mediator used to communicate with Israel, Palestinian sources have said the talks between the Israeli military establishment and Hamas’s political leadership are being mediated by Qatar’s representative to the Gaza strip, Muhammad al-Ahmadi.

On the first anniversary of Operation Protective Edge, the discrepancy between Hamas’s diplomatic messages and the image of victory and belligerence conveyed by its armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, could hardly be greater.

Bardawil, like the media outlets of his movement, all but ignored the news of two Israeli citizens held by Hamas. “The issue of prisoners is completely unrelated to the ceasefire,” he would only say, demanding that Israel first release 53 Hamas members arrested last summer before any talk of a prisoner deal can be begin.

Masked members from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades carry a model of a rocket during a rally to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Islamist movement Hamas at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Central Gaza Strip, December 12, 2014 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Masked members from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades carry a model of a rocket during a rally to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Islamist movement Hamas at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Central Gaza Strip, December 12, 2014 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

On Wednesday, the Qassam Brigades announced the development of two long-range rockets: the “A,” named after Raed al-Attar, the Rafah commander of the Brigades killed during Operation Protective Edge on August 21, 2014; and the “Sh,” named after Muhammad Abu Shamala, another Qassam leader in the southern Gaza Strip killed on the same day.

Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for the Qassam Brigades, would not specify in a press conference as to the rockets’ ranges and whether they were being manufactured locally.

“Time will tell how effective these blessed missiles are,” he said.

The Qassam Brigades released a video on Thursday displaying the military training undertaken by the military wing’s elite forces. “We shall burn the ground underneath their feet,” a caption in the one-minute propaganda video threatened.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=16&v=WGuzYB6vrKk

Hamas, a senior Israeli officer stated this week, is working hard to restore its previous offensive capabilities. Col. A, the intelligence officer of the IDF Southern Command, told the Israeli news site Ynet this week that Hamas has contacted the Islamic State group in Sinai to open a smuggling route between the two territories.

The armed wing has also resumed tunnel digging into Israel, the IDF has announced.

Despite its crackdown on jihadist elements operating within the Gaza Strip, Hamas has turned to its ideological rival across the border in an attempt to rebuild smuggling tunnels destroyed by the Egyptian military in recent months, the Israeli officer said.

“Hamas is interested in a long-term ceasefire’

Gaza-based political scientist Mkhaimar Abusada Abusada told The Times of Israel Thursday that Hamas is indeed interested in a long-term ceasefire, as the movement’s most senior political figure in the Strip, former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, stressed twice during the course of Ramadan this year.

The Qassam Brigades, in contrast, are obligated to put on a brave face on the first anniversary of the war “because that’s their nature,” he said.

“It’s mainly done for domestic consumption,” he opined regarding Qassam’s militaristic bravado.

Hamas’s armed wing, however, is investing resources in training the next generation of combatants. Arab media monitor MEMRI reported this week that the Qassam Brigades have set up recruitment stations for their summer camps, named “the liberation pioneers,” in mosques and other central locations across Gaza.

This is the third session of the camps, intended for young men from the age of 15 and up. For the first time this year, young women will also receive small arms training, a Hamas spokesman said.

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