The brother of Hamas terror group leader Yahya Sinwar said in an interview that last year’s conflict with Israel laid down new ground rules in which firing rockets at cities in Israel’s heartland from the Gaza Strip became more viable.
Muhammad Sinwar, a senior commander in the Hamas military wing, made the remarks in a rare interview with the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network that was broadcast on Friday.
It came amid a spike in tensions with Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups issuing threats over a planned annual march by nationalist Israelis through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem to mark Jerusalem Day. Palestinians have long viewed the march as a provocation.
A Hamas barrage of rockets fired at Jerusalem during last year’s march triggered the eleven-day conflict in May, dubbed in Israel as Operation Guardian of the Walls. Hamas-led terror groups fired thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and cities. Israel responded with intense airstrikes on terror targets.
“When we warn Israel, every letter and every word means approval is given on the ground,” Sinwar said regarding the current tensions and threats. “We know how to hurt Israel and put pressure on it.”
He said Hamas has established “new equations,” knows Israel’s weak points, and “how to pressure it.”
“For us, shooting rockets at Tel Aviv is easier than drinking water,” said Sinwar, who claimed Israel has tried to take him out on a number of occasions in a targeted killing.
Speaking of the May 2021 conflict, Sinwar said Hamas had tried to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips for a prisoner swap but the operation had failed and 18 Hamas fighters were killed. Sinwar did not give any further specific details of the mission.
On the other hand, he claimed a major Israeli ruse that used fake maneuvers to create the impression of an imminent Gaza land incursion in order to drive Hamas fighters into a vast network of underground defense tunnels which were then pounded from the air, had also failed.
“Not a single one of our figures was harmed in the plan,” Sinwar said of the massive attack on what is dubbed the “metro” system of hundreds of kilometers of tunnels Hamas has dug under Gaza.
He further revealed that a joint command center of Palestinian military groups in Gaza held meetings throughout the conflict with Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Officers from the latter two groups were in the command center in the Strip, Sinwar claimed.
During the interview, Al-Jazeera broadcast video of Hamas snipers firing at an IDF watchtower and footage of IDF vehicles in Israel allegedly taken from a Hamas drone. A Hamas rocket commander told the station that it was Muhammed Deif, head of the military wing, who personally gave the order at 6 p.m. to fire the rockets at Jerusalem, sparking the 11 days of fighting.
Sinwar said towards the end of the conflict Hamas has planned to fire over 360 rockets at 14 cities across Israel including Haifa, Tel Aviv, Dimona and Eilat. Egypt mediated an eventual ceasefire.
Sinwar also claimed he was involved in the kidnap and detention of Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier snatched from inside Israel by Hamas during a cross-border raid, and kept captive for five years in Gaza. Shalit was eventually released in 2011 as part of an exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The interview with Sinwar came as an Israeli jailer who in the past guarded his brother Yahya, described the Hamas leader “a coward” and as a cruel and callous man who prefers to let others do his dirty work.
Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s conquest of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, is celebrated most publicly by national-religious Jews, especially by youths who march through the capital while dancing with Israeli flags. The traditional route for the annual march, via east Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate and through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, is considered a provocation by Palestinians and many Israelis.
Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups have both threatened retaliation to any “violations” of the Temple Mount, though the march route does not take it to the flashpoint holy site.
Israel has remained determined to go ahead with the march along the route it has followed over decades of previous celebrations.