In a rare public appearance, the head of Hamas’s military wing said Sunday that although the terror group was not actively seeking another round of violence with Israel, it has continued to stockpile rockets in anticipation of a future war.
Marwan Issa, a top commander for Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, made the comments during a conference organized by a Hamas-linked think tank, his first public appearance in over three years, Ynet reported.
“We are not seeking confrontation with Israel, but we continue to strengthen our capabilities by producing more rockets” he said, and assured participants that “Israel’s statements on this matter are of no interest to us.”
Issa’s comments came amid ongoing attempts by the terror group to test rockets by firing them into the Mediterranean Sea.
He also addressed a ruling by an Egyptian court Saturday that declared the Strip’s ruling party a terrorist organization. “Any attempt to blockade the organization will fail,” Issa warned.
He said that Hamas was looking to forge regional alliances that would allow it to acquire additional weapons, but stressed that it would not align itself with any specific group or country.
After Saturday’s ruling, Gaza residents expressed concern of growing isolation and more hardships. Hamas called for protests against the Egyptian government and issued angry statements, but did not offer a way out of the crisis. Salah Bardaweel, a Hamas spokesman, alleged Sunday that Egypt had become a “direct agent” of Israeli interests.
The ruling signaled Egypt’s growing hostility toward Hamas, an offshoot of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has blamed Hamas for violence in the country’s restive Sinai Peninsula, a charge Hamas denies.
Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007, and the territory’s borders have been largely sealed by Israel and Egypt since then. Egypt intensified the blockade after its military toppled a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo in 2013. Israel and Hamas have fought several bloody wars in the years since Hamas’s takeover of the Strip, the most recent of them over last summer.
In recent months, Egyptian soldiers have destroyed virtually all smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. In October, they began razing parts of the Egyptian town of Rafah on the border with Gaza. Residents near the border said homes are still being dynamited or bulldozed at a steady pace, with the latest explosion heard Sunday afternoon.