ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Hamas deputy chief anticipates hostages will be swapped for Palestinian prisoners

Saleh al-Arouri calls on West Bank to join the fight, says terror group is ready for ‘any option’; boasts that Israeli ground invasion would be ‘best scenario’ for Hamas

Ismail Haniyeh, right, the head of the Hamas political bureau, shakes hands with his deputy Saleh al-Arouri, upon his arrival in Gaza from Cairo, Egypt, in Gaza City, August 2, 2018. (Mohammad Austaz/Hamas Media Office via AP)
Ismail Haniyeh, right, the head of the Hamas political bureau, shakes hands with his deputy Saleh al-Arouri, upon his arrival in Gaza from Cairo, Egypt, in Gaza City, August 2, 2018. (Mohammad Austaz/Hamas Media Office via AP)

Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri predicted Saturday that the many hostages it had kidnapped and taken to the Gaza Strip during the terror group’s unprecedented cross-border assault will be freed in exchange for Palestinian terrorists currently serving prison sentences in Israel.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, al-Arouri defined the large-scale assault launched by the terror group on Israel as an “open battle” aimed at achieving the liberation of the Palestinian people and their holy places, claiming it was a reaction to the alleged “desecration” by Jewish worshipers of the Al-Aqsa compound on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount over the holiday of Sukkot, and alleging that Israel planned to impose an unspecified “new reality” on Temple Mount after the holiday.

The last part was the latest iteration of an almost century-old Palestinian claim that the Zionists and Israel are working to destroy the mosque, offering little evidence beyond the stated aspirations of marginal Jewish extremists and the existence of Israeli archaeological excavations in the area.

Al-Arouri added that Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails were “about to be freed,” anticipating the liberation of imprisoned terror convicts in exchange for the liberation of dozens of Israeli hostages the group has reportedly taken, including both civilians and soldiers.

He claimed that some of the hostages are “senior officers.” He falsely said Hamas does not kill or harm civilians, claiming that there are videos showing how the terror group treats civilians “humanely.” Hamas terrorists slaughtered civilians in southern Israel on Saturday, took others captive, and fired thousands of rockets aimed at civilian population centers.

“We have a plan for all stages of this conflict,” al-Arouri said, “both in case of an Israeli request for a ceasefire, and in case of a continuing escalation of the violence. We are prepared for all options.” He added that an Israeli ground invasion would be the “best scenario” for Hamas.

Hamas deputy political chief Saleh al-Arouri, after signing a reconciliation deal with senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, during a short ceremony at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt, October 12, 2017. (AP/Nariman El-Mofty)

Al-Arouri also expressed his “hope and trust” that Palestinians outside Gaza would join the fight “to defend Al-Aqsa,” especially terror groups in the West Bank. Based in Lebanon, al-Arouri is considered the de facto leader of Hamas in the West Bank.

“We entered this battle not just for a few hours. We entered it knowing that there will be consequences, and we have no choice but to fight it to achieve our high goals,” he said.

Police officers evacuate a woman and a child from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Oct. 7, 2023 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Al-Arouri’s words echoed those of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who said in a statement on Saturday that the terror group’s large-scale onslaught against Israel came after it issued warnings that it would not tolerate Israeli “violations” of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, repeating the long-standing talking point that the Muslim holy place is in “real danger” and that Israel has been trying to impose full sovereignty over it.

Haniyeh said Hamas’s goal was to liberate “our land, our holy sites, our Al-Aqsa, and our prisoners,” and added that Hamas was fighting the battle with all Palestinian armed resistance factions, including in the West Bank. He praised the armed wing of Hamas for being able to throw Israeli security forces “off balance within minutes.”

The Hamas leader also called on elements of the “resistance” in the West Bank and abroad to join the fight, and warned that countries that normalize relations with Israel should not expect this will provide them with protection, referencing the ongoing talks between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US.

In a speech broadcast on Hamas-run Al-Aqsa television, Haniyeh also claimed the terror group was “on the verge of a great victory.”

The statements by the two leaders were aligned with the declaration released earlier in the day by Mohammad Deif, Hamas’s military chief, who encouraged West Bank Palestinians and terror groups supported by Iran throughout the Middle East to join the combat.

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