Hamas official tells Russia: We’re ready for ceasefire with Israel

But Moussa Abu Marzouk conditions truce on Jewish state halting ‘military actions’ on Temple Mount, tells local media terror group will continue to fire long-range rockets

Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk (AP/Hatem Moussa)
Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk (AP/Hatem Moussa)

A senior Hamas official on Wednesday said the terror organization is ready to end the current intensive fighting with Israel, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Deputy Chairman of the Hamas political bureau Moussa Abu Marzouk made the offer during a telephone conversation with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, who also oversees Middle East issues.

Abu Marzouk conditioned it, however, on Israel halting strikes and on the international community pressuring the Jewish state to end “military actions” at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.

Israel is not seeking a ceasefire at this time, according to the army.

Abu Marzouk struck a different tone in interviews Wednesday with Hamas-linked media, saying: “The Europeans contacted us and told us to stop firing short-range missiles, otherwise they would not participate in the reconstruction of Gaza. I told them we will stop our short-range missiles and use long-range missiles instead.”

Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system is activated to intercept a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, May 12, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Abu Marzouk’s comments came after three days of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at Israel during which over 1,000 projectiles were launched at the Jewish state, killing five civilians and injuring dozens. An Israeli soldier was killed by anti-tank missile fire on the Gaza border.

The capital Jerusalem and the commercial center Tel Aviv were both targeted as well as towns and cities in the south and central regions. Israel has responded by pounding hundreds of Hamas and other terror group targets, including strikes that killed senior terror organization commanders.

Palestinian terror groups have tied the attacks to rioting in Jerusalem connected to prayer on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and also the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood amid a court dispute.

According to Russia, Abu Marzouk, speaking on behalf of the Hamas leadership, is ready “to stop any military actions against Israel on a reciprocal basis on the understanding that the international community will exert the necessary pressure on the Israeli side to suppress military actions in the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex,” according to the statement.

Abu Marzouk further conditioned the apparent offer for a ceasefire on the end of what he termed “unlawful” measures by Israel against Jerusalem’s “indigenous Arab inhabitants.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov speaks with journalists in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 27, 2019. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP)

The phone call was held at the request of the Palestinians, the ministry said. Abu-Marzouk talked about the sharp escalation in violence over the past few days and also raised the issue of the Palestinian families who face eviction in Sheikh Jarrah. He also complained over what he said was Israeli shelling of residential neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip.

Bogdanov stressed the importance of an immediate end to the violence as well as “the inadmissibility of attacks on civilians regardless of their nationality and religion, including strikes on civilian targets in Israeli and Palestinian territory,” the statement said.

Israeli officials on Wednesday said they had no intention of entering an immediate ceasefire and plan to have the IDF continue striking targets associated with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Strip in order to both restore deterrence against them to prevent future attacks and to significantly weaken their capabilities.

“We are not talking about a ceasefire, certainly not in the coming two days,” IDF spokesman Hilda Zilberman told the Kan public broadcaster.

Smoke caused by Israeli retaliatory airstrikes for rocket fire is seen at a residential building in Gaza City, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

“There is currently no end date for the operation. Only when we achieve complete quiet can we talk about calm,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said during a tour of rocket-hit Ashkelon. “We will not listen to moral preaching from any organization or institution regarding our right and duty to protect the citizens of Israel.”

As of Wednesday morning, over 1,050 rockets and mortar shells have been fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel since the outbreak of fighting on Monday evening, according to the IDF. Roughly 200 of the total number of rockets failed to clear the border and landed inside the enclave, the military said. IDF Spokesperson Zilberman said the Iron Dome air defense system had an interception rate of between 85 and 90 percent for rockets heading toward populated areas.

Rockets are launched towards Israel from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, early on May 12, 2021. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

At least six people in Israel were killed — three on Wednesday and three on Tuesday — and dozens more injured in the attacks from Gaza, some seriously, including a five-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy in critical condition. One of those killed was an Israeli soldier who died after Hamas fired an anti-tank missile at the jeep he was in on the Israel-Gaza border.

A 67-year-old woman suffered a heart attack that was brought on by rocket sirens in central Israel, and in Tel Aviv, an 80-year-old man suffered an apparent heart attack while running for a shelter and was in serious condition, medics said.

In response to the rocket fire, the IDF launched strikes on upwards of 500 targets in the Gaza Strip, aimed at Hamas personnel, weaponry and infrastructure throughout the enclave, with plans to attack more in the coming hours and days, the military said.

Those included further targeted killings of top Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders and the destruction of a number of high-rise buildings that the IDF said were used by the terror groups as command centers, intelligence bases and weapons research and development facilities, as well as for housing senior members of the terror groups.

According to the Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry, 53 Palestinians have died since Monday night, including 14 minors and three women, and 320 have been wounded. The IDF said more than half of those killed were members of terror groups involved in the fighting and that some, including several of the children, were killed by errant rockets fired from Gaza that fell short of the border and landed inside the Strip, not by Israeli strikes.

Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces on Temple Mount aka the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Gaza rocket attacks came after several days of violent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in East Jerusalem, with the Temple Mount a focal point of the unrest. Hundreds of Palestinians were reportedly injured and dozens of police officers hurt.

Rioting, against the background of the Jerusalem turmoil and the clashes with Hamas, has spread to Arab Israeli communities, in particular Lod, a city with both Jewish and Arab populations.

Hamas, which is avowed to the destruction of the State of Israel, took effective control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup. Since then, Israel has imposed a naval blockade on the enclave, as well as stiff control over what can enter the Strip, maintaining that it is necessary in order to prevent terror groups from smuggling weapons into the area.

Israel has fought three large operations against Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip since 2008, most recently in 2014 with a 51-day war known as Operation Protective Edge.

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