Hamas says it won’t accept Israel dragging feet on lifting Gaza blockade

Senior official Khalil al-Hayya also defends participation of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in the funeral of slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Hamas senior political leader Khalil al-Hayya in Cairo, Egypt on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
Hamas senior political leader Khalil al-Hayya in Cairo, Egypt on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

A senior official in Hamas is warning that the terror group will not abide Israel continuing to restrict the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip in 2020.

Khalil al-Hayya, Hamas’s deputy chief in Gaza, made the comment in an interview with the terror group’s official website that was published Thursday.

“Hamas will not accept 2020 being like the previous year,” he said. “It will not accept the occupation evading and being indecisive about breaking the siege.”

Israel has maintained many limitations on the movement of people and goods into and out of the territory, since shortly after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007.

Israeli officials have argued that the restrictions seek to prevent Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza from smuggling weapons or the means to build them into the coastal enclave.

For more than the past 14 months, however, Egypt and other international parties have brokered various informal ceasefire understandings between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli trucks carrying diesel fuel enter the Kerem Shalom crossing on the Israel-Gaza border, October 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the coastal enclave and the Jewish state.

Hamas has frequently accused Israel of trying to avoid implementing the understandings, and Israeli officials have often been loath to even publicly acknowledge their existence.

The publication of Hayya’s comment on Thursday came after four projectiles were fired into southern Israel on Wednesday, breaking weeks of calm. The Israel Defense Forces responded by striking what it described as a Hamas weapons manufacturing site in Gaza as well as a military compound there.

Wednesday and Thursday have also seen suspected balloon-borne explosive devices land in southern Israel.

Hayya also defended the participation of a Hamas delegation including its chief Ismail Haniyeh in the funeral of slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike at the beginning of January.

“He extended support to us, he was a man who loved Palestine, he believed in the necessity of liberating it from the occupation and he was a supporter of the Palestinian resistance and people,” he said.

“Therefore, when the American administration assassinated him and then announced that — Israel also previously tried to assassinate him– it was a matter of loyalty [for us] to participate in his funeral, visit his family and recall him in a positive way,” he added.

Haniyeh and a number of Hamas officials attended a funeral procession on January 6 for Soleimani, who was the head of the elite Quds Force, the body in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard responsible for Tehran’s military campaigns and expeditions abroad.

The Hamas chief also delivered a speech at the funeral in which he called the Iranian general “the martyr of Jerusalem.”

The Arabic-language Dar al-Hayat news site reported on January 7 that Egypt was displeased with Haniyeh over his participation in the funeral, citing “trusted Egyptian sources.”

Haniyeh, whose home is in the Gaza Strip, had been permitted by Egyptian authorities to travel beyond the coastal enclave and Egypt for the first since he was elected to the top post in Hamas in 2017 on the condition that he not visit Iran, the Egyptian sources told Dar al-Hayat.

Hayya also indicated that Hamas’s ties with Saudi Arabia were weak and seemed to suggest that Riyadh was asking the terror group to cut its ties with Iran.

In this photo, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

“Today, there… perhaps is a rupture of relations that the brothers of Saudi Arabia have imposed,” he said.

“We do not accept anyone forcing us to establish relations with this state and boycott this other state. Hamas does not accept that as the people throughout history have not done so,” he added.

Hamas announced in a statement in September that Saudi Arabia had arrested 81-year-old Mohammed al-Khoudari, a Palestinian man who used to manage its relations with Riyadh.

The statement also said Saudi authorities nabbed Khoudari’s son, Hani, along with other Palestinians based in the Gulf kingdom.

It did not clarify whether Hani or the other Palestinians it said were arrested belong to its ranks.

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