Hamas has proof that its Gaza military chief, Mohammed Deif, is alive after being targeted in an Israeli airstrike in August, the organization’s political leader claimed this week.
In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Hamas’s Khaled Mashaal said that the “Israelis failed to kill” Deif, who heads the organization’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, but “succeeded in killing his wife and his two children.”
Asked if there was any proof that Deif hadn’t died in the August 20 strike, Mashaal added, “We have proof. It’s not important the others have it. Mohammed Deif is not a politician in order to make public appearances. He’s a military man who hardly ever turned up in public, even before the war.”
Israeli media reports in recent weeks suggested Deif could have escaped in the lull between two missile strikes on his Gaza home, the second of which leveled the building.
The strikes killed his wife and two of his children, but it remains unclear whether Deif himself was hit.
A day after Deif was targeted, Israel assassinated three senior Hamas commanders, including the head of Hamas’s southern command in the Gaza Strip, in Rafah. Both Israel and Hamas confirmed the deaths of Muhammad Abu Shamala, Rafah commander Raed al-Attar, and senior weapons smuggler Muhammad Barhum.
But Mashaal was adamant in the interview that the elusive military commander was alive.
“Mohammed Deif is still alive, and will continue to fight the Israeli aggression and occupation. Inshallah,” the Qatari-based leader vowed.
Addressing the summer’s war, in which more than 2,100 Palestinians — at least half of whom were combatants, according to Israel — were killed, Mashaal said Hamas could not consider the conflict a defeat.
He said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instigated the Gaza war because he sought a military victory to placate the Israeli public, weaken his political opponents and resolve the “internal problems” within his cabinet.
“Victims did fall, true. But, we did not launch a war based on some calculations, then discovered that we incurred losses. The war was imposed on us and we simply defended ourselves… we are saddened by the loss of lives, but who should bear responsibility? It’s the Israelis: politicians, military, and security leaders. As for us, we stood our ground in this war. We thwarted Netanyahu’s plot,” he said.
“The steadfastness showcased by Gaza is a victory. It sent a message to the world that there is something called the ‘Palestinian cause’… that the occupation must be brought to an end, that the settlements’ expansions must stop, and that the blockade on Gaza must be lifted.”
Regarding the tunnels leading from the Gaza Strip into Israel, through which Palestinian fighters carried out several attacks and were suspected of plotting to carry out many more, Mashaal said: “In light of the balance of power, which is shifted toward Israel, we had to be creative in finding innovative ways. The tunnels were one of our innovations.”
He asserted that the tunnels were a protective measure to defend the people of Gaza from the “stronger” Israeli military, rather than an avenue through which to carry out attacks.
“The tunnels come in this context, that of putting more obstacles in the way of any Israeli attacks, and enabling the resistance in Gaza to defend itself,” he said, adding that Hamas had only used the tunnels “when Israel aged war against us” and that “if those were offensive tunnels, Hamas would have used them before the war.”
He said Israel was “lying” when it alleged Hamas was planning a large-scale terror attack through the tunnels.
“Evidence of this is that when they declared war on Gaza, they did not declare the tunnels as part of the military targets. But when they discovered the tunnels, this is when they started to raise the issue. This proves that they first started the war, and then looked for justifications,” Mashaal said. “If what Israeli leaders are claiming is correct — that Hamas dug those tunnels to attack the Israeli towns and kill civilians — how come Hamas hasn’t done that during the war?”
He used the same reasoning to justify the launching of thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians — “we did that under the right of self-defense.” He claimed that “when Hamas possesses smart and highly accurate rockets, you’ll see that it will only strike military targets.”
Asked if two Hamas-linked West Bank residents, “martyrs” Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aysha, had killed three Israeli yeshiva students, as alleged by Israel, Mashaal responded: “Even if they did kill, in the end, I said the Palestinian people are defending themselves … We do not kill Israelis because they are Jews. We kill them because they are occupiers.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.