Hamas chief says armed wing ‘stronger’ now than during Gaza war

Echoing comments by Shin Bet chief, Ismail Haniyeh notes Gaza-based terror group has beefed up its military capabilities

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)
Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

Nearly a year after Israel and Gaza-based fighters fought a devastating war, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said Tuesday evening that the Palestinian resistance was more robust now than it was during last summer’s conflict.

The boast by Haniyeh, who acts as the Strip’s de facto political leader, came on the heels of an assessment by an Israeli security head that the terror organization had regrouped and was building up its strength for a future conflict with Israel.

Speaking during a tour of Rafah, in the southern edge of the Strip abutting the Egyptian border, Haniyeh said armed Palestinian groups, especially Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades military wing, was “stronger” than during the Gaza war, The Palestinian Safa news site reported.

Haniyeh also welcomed a newfound “openness” and easing of restrictions on the group by “those who had pressured us in the past,” according to an Israeli report.

The comments were an apparent reference to Egypt, which recently removed Hamas from its terror blacklist.

Earlier Tuesday, Shin Bet security service head Yoram Cohen told a Knesset committee that the terror group has made great efforts to rebuild its military capacities in preparation for the next bout of violence with the Jewish state.

Cohen said that Hamas has been working to reestablish its cross-border tunnels, develop and produce new rockets, and increase training for its naval and ground forces — coinciding with attempts to garner additional sources of funding from Iran.

At this time, he said, Hamas has little interest in launching a war against Israel and, while it could wage a significant military campaign, it would be limited in its efficacy.

Israel and Hamas fought a bloody 50-day war starting July 8 and lasting until late August 2014, during which some 2,200 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed.

The sides have mostly kept to a ceasefire since, though sporadic rocket fire, mostly from smaller terror groups chafing under Hamas rule, has brought Israeli retaliatory strikes against Hamas facilities.

Cohen also noted that the group was diverting resources away from civilian rehabilitation projects and onto the reconstructing of its armed wing, which suffered a significant blow during last year’s conflict.

Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.

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