A senior Hamas official threatened Israel if it does not remove its blockade over Gaza amid reports of progressing efforts between the terror group and the Jewish state to achieve a long term ceasefire.
“The enemy must understand that we will draw new equations if the siege is not lifted,” said Osama al-Mazini at a rally attended by tens of thousands in Gaza City, marking the 32nd anniversary of Hamas’s founding.
Gaza has been under blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since the Hamas terror group seized power in 2007. UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted due to its negative economic and humanitarian implications, but Jerusalem says it is necessary to keep Hamas, which avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, from obtaining weapons or materials to make them.
With Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh currently visiting regional leaders abroad, al-Mazini addressed the anniversary mass rally and touched on a range of issues, including Palestinian reconciliation efforts, negotiations toward a prisoner exchange with Israel along with broader efforts against the Jewish state.
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He claimed Hamas had made dozens of concessions toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement in a bid for reconciliation and called to hold Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Palestinian politicians seek to hold the vote in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, though it is unclear whether Israel will allow for an election to be held in the Arab neighborhoods it deems part of its “undivided capital.” A decision by Israel to bar elections in East Jerusalem would likely throw a wrench into the entire project.
Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since 2007, when the terror group seized Gaza and threw out Abbas’s forces, which retained control of the internationally recognized Palestinian government, based in the West Bank. No parliamentary elections have been held since 2006, with the two sides trading blame.
Multiple attempts at reconciliation have failed and analysts say new elections are impossible without improved relations.
Nonetheless, al-Mazini on Saturday said his movement was “ready for elections.”
Al-Mazini was involved in negotiating the prisoner exchange with Israel that saw the Jewish state release over 1,000 Palestinian security detainees in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been captured and held by Hamas for roughly five years.
He said Hamas was determined to see through the release of Palestinian security prisoners, but at the same time called on the terror group’s military wing to “double its strength and enhance joint efforts with the resistance factions.”
On Friday, several thousand Palestinians protested on the Gaza border, with several hundred rioting and clashing with Israeli forces.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said five Palestinians were hurt in the clashes, which included the hurling of Molotov cocktails and other objects at IDF soldiers.
Speaking at a separate rally on Friday marking the Hamas anniversary, Fathi Hammad, a member of the Islamist terror group’s politburo, commented on Israeli captives held by Hamas, following recent reports of efforts to broker a prisoner exchange between Israel and the terror group.
“The Israeli soldiers won’t see the light until our prisoners see the light,” Channel 12 quoted him as saying.
Hamas is believed to be holding captive two Israeli citizens — Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — who are said to have entered the Gaza Strip of their own accord in 2014-2015.
It also holds the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war.
“On the issue of prisoners, the enemy’s dawdling won’t help it,” Hammad said.
He warned the armed wing of Hamas would soon unveil a “new chapter in the battle” against Israel, without elaborating.
Friday’s border demonstrations were part of the weekly March of Return protests that began last March and resumed last week after a three-week hiatus following a large-scale battle in November between the IDF and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group in Gaza.
Ahead of last week’s protests, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said Israel had a “unique opportunity” to reach a long-term ceasefire with terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
Meeting with mayors of Gaza-adjacent communities, Kohavi indicated that Israel believed it could negotiate an oft-discussed long-term ceasefire agreement with Hamas.
The army chief said this was due to the success of the IDF’s recent two-day battle with the Islamic Jihad, an operation that was dubbed “Black Belt.” Unlike in previous rounds of fighting, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, stayed on the sidelines.
For more than the past year, Hamas has negotiated a series of unofficial ceasefire understandings with Israel.
The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza in exchange for Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave maintaining relative quiet in the border region.
However, the informal agreements have not put an end to cross-border violence, as both Israel and terror groups in Gaza have recently participated in several short flareups.