In first public message since Oct. 7, Sinwar says Hamas won’t surrender

Terror chief inflates group’s achievements, falsely claims it is ‘crushing’ the IDF, as top leadership in Qatar evaluates Egyptian proposal to end hostilities

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas's Gaza chief, speaks during a meeting in Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (Mahmud Hamas/AFP)
Yahya Sinwar, Hamas's Gaza chief, speaks during a meeting in Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (Mahmud Hamas/AFP)

In his first public message since the massacres of October 7, Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar on Monday remained defiant, while grossly inflating the terror group’s achievements in the war.

Hamas is facing a “fierce, violent and unprecedented battle” against Israel, Sinwar acknowledged in a message to Hamas’s political leadership. But he also claimed that the terror group was on its way to crushing the Israel Defense Forces, and, referring to Israel, said Hamas will not submit to “the occupation’s conditions.”

Sinwar falsely claimed that the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, had “targeted” over 5,000 Israeli soldiers and officers, and killed about third of them — that is, over 1,500.

The actual figure of IDF deaths is one-tenth of what the terror leader alleged. According to the IDF, 156 soldiers have so far been killed in the ground operation in Gaza. Over 300 members of the security forces were killed in Hamas’s initial October 7 onslaught.

The terror leader also gave inflated claims of the number of Israeli soldiers injured in the war, and the amount of Israeli military equipment that has been destroyed. He claimed that around 3,500 troops were seriously wounded or disabled, whereas that figure according to the IDF stands at less than 200.

He further said that Hamas had completely or partially destroyed 750 Israeli military vehicles. While the IDF has not provided official figures, the commander of the IDF Technology and Maintenance Corps, Brig. Gen. Ariel Shima, said in early November that very few IDF vehicles had been severely damaged beyond repair, and that most vehicles that are hit return to fighting.

An IDF truck carrying fuel is seen in the Gaza Strip, in a handout photo published November 6, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Sinwar’s announcement came as the terror group faces growing military pressure. The IDF has been “gradually achieving” its goals in northern Gaza and is continuing operations in the Khan Younis area in the south of the Strip, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement on Friday.

Gallant also issued a renewed personal threat against Sinwar, saying he would soon “meet the barrels of our guns.”

On Saturday, Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh returned to Qatar from Cairo to discuss with exiled officials of the terror group an Egyptian proposal for a two-week truce that could become a permanent ceasefire if Hamas agrees to allow a Palestinian technocratic government to take control of Gaza, and to gradually release all Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of a certain number of Palestinian prisoners.

There were some indications that Israel had not flat-out rejected the proposal.

The three-stage plan would begin with a two-week halt to the fighting, extendable to three or four, in exchange for the release of 40 Israeli hostages — women, minors, and elderly men, especially sick ones.

In return, Israel would release 120 Palestinian security prisoners of the same categories. During this time, hostilities would stop, Israeli tanks would withdraw, and humanitarian aid would enter Gaza.

The second phase would see an Egypt-sponsored “Palestinian national talk” aimed at ending the division between Palestinian factions — mainly the Fatah party-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas — and leading to the formation of a technocratic government in the West Bank and Gaza that would oversee the reconstruction of the Strip and pave the way for Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections.

Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh makes a televised address on December 13, 2023. (Screenshot: X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The third stage would include a comprehensive ceasefire, the release of the remaining Israeli hostages, including soldiers, in return for a to-be-determined number of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails affiliated with Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group — including those arrested after October 7 and some convicted of serious terror offenses.

The war began with the deadly Hamas onslaught on October 7, when thousands of terrorists stormed into Israel, killing some 1,200 people — most of them civilians slaughtered in their homes, communities, and at a music festival amid brutal atrocities — and seizing around 240 hostages. In response, Israel launched an aerial campaign and a subsequent ground operation, vowing to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip and end its rule.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening reiterated his longstanding position that the Gaza offensive will not stop until Hamas is destroyed. He has repeatedly stressed the three pillars of Israel’s campaign are to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and release the hostages.

“We are deepening the war in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said in a video statement. “We will continue to fight until complete victory over Hamas. That is the only way to bring back the hostages, to eliminate Hamas, and to ensure that Gaza will no longer be a threat to Israel.”

Netanyahu acknowledged the “very heavy toll” that the war was taking on IDF soldiers.

“We are doing everything to protect the lives of our fighters,” Netanyahu said. “But one thing we will not do — we will not stop until we achieve victory.”

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu giving a statement, December 24, 2023. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, David Barnea, has reportedly met twice with senior Qatari and US officials, with officials permitting him to discuss the release of high-level Palestinian security prisoners, including some who carried out attacks on Israelis.

There is opposition from the far-right flank of Netanyahu’s coalition against pausing the Gaza offensive or releasing high-level prisoners.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir last week threatened to bolt the government if the Gaza campaign is stopped before the eradication of Hamas. Fellow far-right ally Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who leads the Religious Zionism party, also hit out against the notion of freeing high-level prisoners.

Hamas, for its part, has repeatedly said it will not negotiate a truce and hostage release under fire.

Hamas terror group leader Yahya Sinwar holds the child of an Al-Qassam Brigades member, who was killed in the recent fighting with Israel, during a rally in Gaza City on May 24, 2021. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

Israel has come under increasing international pressure for a ceasefire, due to concerns over the mounting civilian toll in Gaza. However, the United National Security Council on Friday approved a resolution, after protracted negotiations to avoid the US exercising its veto power, that did not demand a ceasefire.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims more than 20,000 people have been killed in the Strip during the war, an unverified figure. Israel says it assesses troops have killed some 8,000 terror operatives. Another 1,000 Hamas terrorists were killed in Israel on October 7, during the terror group’s onslaught.

 Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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