In a rare interview, Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar told Britain’s Sky News that Israel has no right to exist, and said the terror group’s strategy was to target Israeli population centers.
The interview, which came in the wake of the ceasefire that began on Friday, was conducted by Sky’s Middle East correspondent, Mark Stone, who visited al-Zahar in his Gaza home.
In stilted English, al-Zahar explained that Hamas’s “victory” was a function of the group’s ability to fire rockets on densely populated Israeli civilian areas.
“The new element” in the latest round of fighting, al-Zahar said, “is the degree of the resistance movement, particularly in Gaza, to attack the Israeli targets at very important points, including most of the overcrowded area in the civilian society. So for how long the Israeli will accept that, I think this is the main issue.”
Hamas and other Gaza terror groups launched over 4,300 rockets at Israel during the 11 days of fighting, at times forcing people living near Gaza into bomb shelters around the clock.
Stone challenged al-Zahar: “You are firing rockets and missiles from civilian areas here in Gaza at civilians in Israel,” he said. “That’s not acceptable, that’s a war crime.”
Al-Zahar rejected the accusation that Hamas endangers Palestinians. “No single rocket was sent from a civilian area. We [fired] most of the rockets from the border,” he told Stone.
“That’s not true, though, is it? Because we’ve seen video of rockets being fired from within the built-up area of Gaza City at Israeli communities,” Stone responded, to which Al-Zahar replied, “This is not against Israeli communities. This is against Israeli occupation. This is against Israeli aggression.”
One soldier and 12 civilians in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, were killed in the recent rocket fire, and hundreds were injured.
In Gaza, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said that at least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and teens, and 1,910 people were wounded. It did not differentiate between terror group members and civilians. The Israeli army said some of the Gaza casualties were caused by the terror groups’ rockets falling short and landing inside Gaza.
When challenged on Hamas’s spending on military infrastructure, such as tunnels, instead of Gaza’s impoverished population, Al-Zahar said it does so to protect itself against “the Israeli aggression.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday said that Israel destroyed “a considerable proportion” of Hamas’s internal tunnel routes, its “metro,” in which Hamas had invested vast resources. “We harmed more than 100 kilometers” of that network, and turned it into “a death trap for the terrorists,” Netanyahu said.
During the interview, Stone also asked Al-Zahar point-blank: “Does the State of Israel have the right to exist?”
“No. Why? Why? You are coming from America and you take my house. You came from Britain and you took my brother’s house. This is a settlement. You are not a citizen. We are the owners of this. This is an Arabic area. This is well-known as an Islamic area, well-known,” Al-Zahar said.
When pressed on the possibility of peace talks with Israel, Al-Zahar said the question was irrelevant, and that he would only answer “practical” questions. The Hamas founder did, however, say he would be willing to sit and talk to US President Joe Biden, despite him supporting Israel.
According to a Friday report, the US is planning to head a multi-billion dollar international effort to assist in rebuilding the Gaza Strip following the fighting. The goal, it said, is partly to “bring pressure, through promises of financial support, on Hamas not to resume fighting.”