Hamas will not break ceasefire, Gaza leader vows
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Hamas will not break ceasefire, Gaza leader vows

Mahmoud Al-Zahar says terror group won’t renew attacks after September 26 deadline for talks, unless Israel fires first; criticizes political leader Mashaal for relocating to Qatar rather than Beirut

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Mahmoud al-Zahar attends a demonstration in Khan Yunis in 2012. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)
Mahmoud al-Zahar attends a demonstration in Khan Yunis in 2012. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is open-ended and will not be terminated by Hamas next week, at the one-month deadline for the start of long-term ceasefire talks, a senior Hamas official in Gaza said on Thursday.

“The ceasefire continues and is not one month long,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Hamas hardliner and former foreign minister in the government of Ismail Haniyeh, told Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar. “But if the occupation attacks, we will retaliate.”

Israeli and Palestinian delegations are expected to return to Cairo in the coming days to negotiate the details of a ceasefire signed on August 26 to end Operation Protective Edge. Hamas’s deputy political bureau chief Moussa Abu Marzouk told the Al-Quds daily that his movement is still waiting for an Egyptian invitation which should arrive by Thursday “at the latest.”

Al-Zahar said that Palestinians need not await Israeli permission to build a seaport or an airport, since the Oslo Accords allowed for the construction of both. The Yasser Arafat International Airport in Gaza was shut in October 2000, shortly after the eruption of the Second Intifada, and destroyed by the IDF in late 2001 and early 2002.

“If we reached an internal decision to build an airport and Israel attacked it, we will strike its airport,” he said. “A seaport … could also be build anywhere in the Gaza Strip based on a Palestinian decision. Israel’s agreement doesn’t concern us, since we paid its price in the Oslo Agreement when the PLO recognized Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people.”

Meanwhile, conflicting reports emerged on Thursday as to whether Hamas had in fact arrested the men responsible for launching a mortar into Israel on Tuesday evening, breaking the ceasefire for the first time.

Palestinian sources told London-based Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat that Hamas security forces arrested two Salafi jihadists who had launched a projectile on their own initiative, “without consulting their superiors.”

Palestinian Hamas security guards walk near an Egyptian watch tower on the border with Egypt in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on July 5, 2013 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian Hamas security guards walk near an Egyptian watch tower on the border with Egypt in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on July 5, 2013 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

According to the daily’s report, Hamas informed the jihadist leaders in Gaza following the arrest that it “will not tolerate this and will crack down on those trying to launch missiles. It will not allow anyone to violate the general Palestinian agreement prescribing the end of war and adherence to the ceasefire.” Hamas immediately informed Egypt of the arrest, the report claimed, conveying a message to Israel that it was uninterested in resuming hostilities.

But in his interview with Al-Quds Wednesday, Cairo-based political leader Abu Marzouk denied that any arrests have been made.

“It is not our policy to pursue any resistance movements,” he said. “We will reach understandings with the faction behind the attack, and the matter will certainly be settled by all the factions committing [to the ceasefire].”

In his interview with Al-Akhbar, conducted over “the ruins of his destroyed home in Gaza,” Zahar was no less critical of the Palestinian leadership — even that of his own movement — than he was of Israel. He said that Mahmoud Abbas was an illegitimate leader purposefully evading national elections out of fear of their results.

“Mahmoud Abbas is not a unity president nor a legitimate one, but has remained a de facto president. We cooperated with him because he was elected president a year before us, and we gave him half the government in the Mecca agreement of 2006. But he wanted to overthrow us and incited for our death, so he has lost his legitimacy since 2005 and does not represent us politically. His program has failed for 22 years … so he attacks others.”

Al-Zahar also tacitly criticized his own political leader, Khaled Mashaal, for choosing to relocate to Qatar after leaving the movement’s headquarters in Syria in January 2012. Mashaal has come under public criticism in Arab media during Operation Protective Edge for his lavish lifestyle in the rich Gulf state while the population of Gaza suffers abject poverty and Israel’s military wrath.

Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal answers AFP journalists' questions during an interview in the Qatari capital of Doha, on August 10, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/al-Watan Doha/Karim Jaafar)
Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal answers AFP journalists’ questions during an interview in the Qatari capital of Doha, on August 10, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/al-Watan Doha/Karim Jaafar)

“After leaving Damascus we should have gone to Beirut. There is a Palestinian population there among which we could live, preparing a real political program in coordination with elements there. Why did we not go to Beirut? That’s a question you must direct at those who went to Doha instead of Lebanon.”

Zahar refused to answer a question regarding Iran’s cutting of financial aid to Hamas following the departure from Syria, saying that divulging information on the matter “would benefit Israel.”

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