In a remarkably conciliatory interview with Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip claimed he does not want any more wars and sees a “real opportunity for change.”
“A new war isn’t in anyone’s interest, definitely not in our interest. Who wants to confront a nuclear power with four slingshots? War doesn’t achieve anything,” Yahya Sinwar said in an excerpt published Thursday from the interview. Yedioth said the full interview will be published on Friday.
Francesca Borri, an Italian reporter for Italy’s la Repubblica newspaper who conducted the interview on Yedioth’s behalf, said she met Sinwar in his office in Gaza City over five days.
Yedioth touted the interview as Sinwar’s first to the Israeli press since becoming Hamas’s leader in Gaza. In Thursday’s excerpt, she asked him, “Why have you decided to give this interview now, and with an Israeli newspaper?” To which he replied, “Because I now see a real opportunity for change.” However, Sinwar later denied knowing that Borri was working for the daily and accused Yedioth of deceiving him.
“I’m not saying I won’t fight anymore; I’m saying I don’t want more wars,” said the leader of the Palestinian terror group that rules Gaza and openly seeks Israel’s destruction.
“What I want is the end of the siege,” he said, referring to an Israeli and Egyptian blockade imposed over Gaza after Hamas took over the Strip in a violent coup in 2007.
Both Israel and Egypt enforce a number of restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.
A surge of violence in Gaza began in March with a series of protests along the border that were dubbed the “March of Return.” The clashes have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks aimed at IDF soldiers, as well as shooting and IED attacks, and attempts to breach the border fence.
Border riots have increased in recent weeks, going from a weekly event to near nightly protests since Hamas halted indirect talks with Israel aimed at a long-term ceasefire. Hamas has increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence including during nighttime and early morning hours.
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has steadily worsened and reconciliation talks with the Palestinian Authority have broken down.
Denying any responsibility for Gaza’s dire humanitarian situation, Sinwar said that “the responsibility lies with whoever closed the borders, not with those who tried to reopen them. My responsibility is to cooperate with anyone who can help us put an end to the blockade. In the current situation, an eruption is inevitable.”
Indirect talks between Israel and Hamas over a long-term ceasefire have reportedly stalled for now. Sinwar said that the ceasefire for him would mean “complete calm and lifting the blockade.” When asked about the idea of calm in exchange for calm, he said: “No. Calm in exchange for calm and lifting the blockade. The blockade isn’t calm.”
Sinwar said a prisoner swap was a “completely vital” part of any truce deal.
“It isn’t a political question. It’s a moral question. I view it as a duty. I will do everything to free everyone still in jail.”
He added that while an agreement hasn’t been reached, “almost” all Palestinian organizations would be willing to sign it.
“It’s important to clarify: If we are attacked, we will protect ourselves, as always, and we’ll have another war. But then, in a year, you’ll be here again and I’ll tell you again that war doesn’t achieve anything,” Sinwar said.
British publication The Telegraph reported Wednesday that in a recent five-hour briefing to Palestinian reporters, Sinwar laid down his new strategy which states that if Israel lifts the Gaza blockade, Hamas and the other Palestinian factions would ensure all rocket launches and other attacks against Israel are stopped.
The Hamas leader reportedly said he is confident that an agreement with Israel can be reached by mid-October, but threatened to cause “chaos” with mass border demonstrations if there is no deal.
Gaza protesters have regularly launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.
At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during the protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.
Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.