Hamas does not want a new war with Israel and the tunnels it is digging into the Jewish state’s territory and Egypt are purely “defensive,” a senior figure in the Palestinian terror group told foreign journalists in Gaza on Thursday.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, a hardliner who co-founded Hamas and belongs to the organization’s leadership in Gaza, also reiterated the movement’s long-standing refusal to ever recognize Israel, Reuters said.
“We are not looking for any confrontation with Israel, but if they are going to launch an aggression, we have to defend ourselves,” the 71-year-old Zahar said.
On the subject of Hamas’s tunnel-building program, he said: “You are speaking about tunnels? You are not speaking about F-35 (fighter planes)? You are not speaking about the nuclear bomb in Israel… The tunnels are a matter of self-defense.”
Hamas’s media outlets have been publishing videos almost daily showing — essentially mocking — Israeli engineering equipment digging on the border in an effort to locate the tunnels.
Earlier this month, Zahar boasted that “the tunnels reach deep into the territory occupied in 1948…They reach beyond Gaza.”
Later, however, he toned down the rhetoric, saying the tunnels were defensive and for “the protection of our people in the face of any Israeli aggression.”
During the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, Palestinian gunmen emerged from the tunnels on several occasions to ambush IDF soldiers, killing several.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told leaders of Israeli communities around the Gaza Strip that the army has been employing the latest technology and that a budget has been earmarked to put a stop to the threat of attack tunnels emanating from the coastal Palestinian territory.
On the issue of attempts between Hamas and the ruling Fatah organization in the West Bank to reach reconciliation, Zahar suggested that the chances were slim, according to Reuters.
He blamed Fatah for the lack of progress in talks with Hamas, last held in the Qatari capital Doha, the news agency reported.