Hamas warns new protests will go farther, surprise Israel

Terror group’s leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal vow to step up demonstrations after bloody weekend

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)
Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)

Defiant Hamas leaders warned Sunday that Palestinians would continue their protests along the Gaza fence, vowing to go beyond the barrier next time and promising fresh surprises for Israel.

“The Palestinians will not give up the ‘right of return’,” former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said during a visit to Turkey. “We will not recognize the legitimacy of the occupation and we will not surrender in the face of the siege [on the Gaza Strip].”

Mashaal noted that Israel had prevented weapons from reaching the West Bank, only to get car-ramming and stabbing attacks. “Our people are capable of defending themselves,” he said. “In the past, the enemy was used to rockets being launched from the Gaza Strip. But this time Gaza surprised [Israel] with something new, and there’s more in stock.”

The Palestinians, Mashaal added, will also continue their struggle against US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East.

“The Zionist enemy thought that the Gaza Strip was easy prey,” Mashaal said in a speech before more than 1,000 Turkish delegates attending a conference in Istanbul. “They [Israel] believed that the people of the Gaza Strip are like metal that can’t be broken. They also discovered that they will not be able to defeat the resistance. Our grandfathers, fathers, and sons fought there and were martyred there.”

Fifteen Palestinians were killed and scores more were wounded as tens of thousands of Gazans marched on Israel’s border fence on Friday.

The Israel Defense Forces said Saturday that at least 10 of those killed — the Gazans reported a death toll of 15 — were members of Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas.

Palestinians take part in demonstrations near the border with Israel, east of Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip on March 30, 2018. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis said Friday that the military had faced “a violent, terrorist demonstration at six points” along the fence.

He said the IDF used “pinpoint fire” wherever there were attempts to breach or damage the security fence. “All the fatalities were aged 18-30, several of the fatalities were known to us, and at least two of them were members of Hamas commando forces,” he said in a late afternoon statement.

As of Saturday evening, Hamas, a terrorist group that openly seeks to destroy Israel, itself acknowledged that five of the dead in the so-called “March of Return” were its own gunmen.

In Gaza City, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Sunday he was proud of Palestinian children who took part in the Friday protests.

Haniyeh was speaking during a ceremony in his office to honor Mohammed Ayyash, a Palestinian boy who was filmed covering his face with a homemade mask filled with onions and garlic to avoid the effects of tear gas.

“The children of Palestine and Gaza, who bravely challenged the Israeli military, relayed a message to the world that the Palestinians can’t be defeated and are determined to achieve the right of return and end the [blockade] on the Gaza Strip,” Haniyeh said.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gestures as he delivers a speech over US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Gaza City, December 7, 2017. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

Haniyeh said that the mass protests will continue, adding that no one knows where the demonstrators will stop next time. “We wish to tell the world that the March of Return was peaceful and civilized, and women, youths, children and elderly participated in it,” he said. “The killings by the Israeli army were premeditated,” he said.

Mashaal also claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees US President Donald Trump’s presence in the White House as a “golden opportunity to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”

Referring to Trump’s long awaited peace plan, the former Hamas leader said: “The deal of the century is being cooked in a dark rooms, and they feel that some Muslims are cooperating with them.”

Mashaal was apparently referring to reports that some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, had been pressuring the Palestinians to accept Trump’s plan, if and when it is announced.

He also claimed that Netanyahu had been emboldened by the crises and “weaknesses” plaguing the Arab world.

“Netanyahu does not know that Jerusalem is our soul, history, future and fate,” Mashaal added.

The enemies of the Palestinians, he said, “have begun realizing that their conspiracies will not pass. That’s why they have devised a new scheme to obliterate the right of return, tighten their grip on Jerusalem and dry the sources of funding for Hamas.”

The Palestinians, he said, “will not be defeated because their sons are fighters and sons of martyrs.”

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position has generally been that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

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