BEIRUT, Lebanon — The leader of the Palestinian terror group Hamas boasted on Sunday that his organization could hit Tel Aviv and beyond with missiles, as he made a triumphant appearance in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.
Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the political bureau of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, was triumphantly carried on the back of a man wearing a mask into Ein El-Hilweh, under the protection of Hamas members and camp guards.
Before a cheering crowd of hundreds in the camp outside the southern coastal city of Sidon, including refugees who traveled to see him from other camps, Haniyeh praised his movement’s military capacity and shrugged off United Arab Emirates-Israel normalization.
“Our missiles had a range of several kilometers from the border with Gaza,” Haniyeh said. “Today the resistance in Gaza has missiles that can hit Tel Aviv and beyond Tel Aviv.”
Hamas rockets have reached Tel Aviv and far beyond in previous rounds of fighting, but such launches are rare and considered a serious escalation by Israel. The seaside metropolis is located some 70 kilometers (45 miles) north of Gaza.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and several smaller battles over the last 13 years. Neither side is believed to be seeking war, but any casualties could ignite a wider conflict.
Haniyeh’s comments during a visit to Lebanon followed an escalation of violence in recent weeks in which Hamas-affiliated groups lofted incendiary balloons and fired short range rockets into Israel and Israeli warplanes struck areas in the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas.
Hamas announced last week that international mediators had brokered a new set of “understandings” with Israel, halting the latest round of fighting for the time being in exchange for an easing of Israeli restrictions on the Gaza Strip.
Haniyeh and a Hamas delegation met earlier with the leader of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, during which they discussed the situation in the Middle East and the recent normalization of relations between the Emirates and Israel, a Hezbollah statement said.
Haniyeh said normalization between Israel and Arab countries, “does not represent the people, neither their conscience, nor their history nor their heritage,” according to a Hamas statement.
Haniyeh, who is seen as trying to shore up support among Palestinians with a possible leadership contest on the horizon, also gave a rare interview to the Palestinian Authority’s Palestine TV while in Beirut.
Haniyeh was criticized during his visit by some in Lebanon on social media. One post sarcastically asked whether it would be better for him to threaten Israel from the West Bank, which is ruled by the Fatah-dominated PA and with whom Hamas has a longstanding feud.
Another post said Lebanon has enough problems at the moment, and doesn’t need Hamas on top of that.
Lebanon is grappling with its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, and the capital Beirut was devastated one month ago by a massive explosion, the result of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates igniting at the port.
The blast killed more than 190 and injured thousands.