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In interview with Israeli paper, Hamas chief defends group’s terror tactics

‘If tomorrow I organize an attack, I’ll be in the main headlines of all the newspapers,’ Yahya Sinwar says, claiming it’s the only way to send messages to Israel

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a news conference in Gaza City, May 1, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)
Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a news conference in Gaza City, May 1, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)

The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip defended its use of suicide bombings, incendiary airborne balloons and other terrorist tactics to target Israel over the years, while asserting it is interested in peace.

In a rare interview with the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth, published Friday, Yahya Sinwar also said conditions during his time in Israeli prison were better than conditions in Gaza and that though they were once famous for their intellectual feats, Jews are now known for “executions without trial.”

Asked to justify the use of terror tunnels and suicide bombings to kill Israelis, Sinwar defended them as a more effective tool in drawing attention to the Palestinians than talk of ending violence. He also described them as a natural evolution from the airplane hijackings by armed Palestinian groups such as Fatah in the 1970s.

“The tools of the resistance change in accordance with context, with whom you want to speak to and what language the other side speaks,” he said.

“If tomorrow I organize an attack, I’ll be in the main headlines of all the newspapers. When I talk about a ceasefire, like in this interview, it is harder to listen to me.”

Members of the Hamas terror group’s military wing attend the funeral of six of its fighters at a cemetery in the Deir al-Balah refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on May 6, 2018. (Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

With this, Sinwar defended the latest tactic of launching of airborne incendiary devices from Gaza toward Israel, which since March have burned thousands of acres in the south and caused millions of shekels in estimated damages.

״The kites and balloons are not a weapon, they are a message: You are stronger than us where it’s not even comparable, but you will never, ever win,” he said.

He also defended using aid and other resources for arms and building military infrastructure, one of the main reasons for the security blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on the Strip, saying without it “we would all be dead.”

At numerous points in the interview, Sinwar proclaimed his desire for peace, but said this would not come about if there is “no justice.” He also bristled at defining Hamas primarily by its arms and military posture toward Israel.

“You have no idea what Hamas really is,” said Sinwar, claiming the Islamist group, whose guiding charter calls for the destruction of Israel, is committed to establishing a state based on “democracy, pluralism and cooperation.”

“A state that respects human rights and freedom,” he continued. “Hamas is much more than its military operations. We are a social movement more than a political [one]. A movement that organizes meals for the poor, schools, clinics.”

Then-Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and freed Palestinian security prisoner Yahya Sinwar, a founder of the terror group’s military wing, wave as supporters celebrate the release of hundreds of inmates in a swap for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza on October 21, 2011. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Sinwar rejected the interviewer’s calling of an Israeli soldier kidnapped in 2006 and held in Gaza by Hamas for over five years a “captive” and reflected on his own time in an Israeli prison.

“Gilad Shalit wasn’t a captive. He was a prisoner of war. You understand why we don’t talk much with journalists,” Sinwar said. “We kill a soldier, and you publish a picture of him having fun on the beach, and your readers think we went and shot him in Tel Aviv. No.”

Shalit was released in 2011 as part of a lopsided swap for over 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners, among them Sinwar.

Regarding his time in Israeli prison, where he was held for over 20 years for murdering Palestinian collaborators with Israel, Sinwar said conditions were far better there than in the Gaza Strip.

“In truth, I never got out. I only switched prisons and the old prison was much better than this. I had water, electricity, hundreds of books. To be in Gaza is much more difficult,” he said.

Sinwar also expressed admiration for Jewish intellectuals of the 19th and 20th centuries but claimed Jews were no longer known for their academic and artistic accomplishments.

“Did you see the video clip of the soldier shooting at us if we were barrels,” Sinwar said, referring to footage from earlier this year of Israeli troops cheering as a sniper shot a Palestinian near the border fence.

“Once there were Jews like Freud, Kafka, Einstein. They were famous for mathematics, philosophy. Today it is because of the UAVs, the executions without trial,” he said.

A Palestinian throws a stone toward Israeli troops during clashes east of Gaza City, along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, on October 5, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

The publication of the full interview came after Yedioth released excerpts on Thursday, in which Sinwar said he does not want any more wars and sees a “real opportunity for change.”

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.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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