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Top Hamas official claims group barely scathed by Gaza operation

Organization only lost 7 percent of capabilities, says Moussa Abu Marzouk, adding that Israeli teens’ kidnappers acted without consulting Hamas leadership

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

The summer war in Gaza barely set back Hamas’s military capabilities, the movement’s political second-in-command said in comments published this week, countering Israeli claims that the movement was significantly harmed during Operation Protective Edge.

“After all the bombing and war, Israel reduced Hamas’s military capabilities by less than 7%,” Abu Marzouk said in a lengthy interview with Egyptian daily A-Shorouk published Monday.

Abu Marzouk also admitted that the kidnappers of Israeli teenagers Gil-ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah on June 12 belonged to Hamas, but carried out the operation “as individuals, without the knowledge of the organization’s leadership.”

“Palestinians, regardless of their organizational affiliation, will never stop looking for ways to free their prisoners,” Abu Marzouk added. “Therefore, I can’t rule out future kidnapping attempts to free the prisoners in Israeli jails.”

Abu Marzouk’s statements came as details of a massive attack planned by Hamas were published by Vanity Fair on Tuesday. According to the report, Hamas was preparing to insert 200 terrorists into Israel via underground tunnels, to kidnap and kill a large number Israelis.

Earlier this week, a Hamas daily interviewed a team of tunnel diggers working on reconstructing a passageway damaged by Israel during Operation Protective Edge.

A photo released by the IDF shows a Hamas tunnel discovered by soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade in the Northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)
A photo released by the IDF shows a Hamas tunnel discovered by soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade in the Northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2014. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/Flash90)

Hamas had refused to accept the Egyptian ceasefire proposal three days into the operation, Abu Marzouk said, because it would have prohibited his movement from digging offensive tunnels into Israel. The final deal reached in late August has no specific clause limiting such activity. Hamas was also displeased with a clause in the Egyptian proposal that tied the opening of border crossings with Israel to security stability, a clause that would ensure that “crossings between Gaza and the occupied territories remained shut forever,” he said.

‘Indirect communication with Israel serves our interests’

Days before ceasefire talks between Hamas and Israel are set to resume in Cairo through the mediation of Egyptian intelligence, Abu Marzouk said that while no religious prohibition exists for dealing with Israel directly, indirect talks continue to serve Hamas’s political interests.

“[Direct talks] would put pressure on us at present,” he said. “Let me give you an example. During one of the first round of indirect meetings, Israel requested Hamas’s disarmament from Egypt. But the Egyptian intermediary refused to to convey this request, so it was never put on the agenda. If we and the Zionist entity would communicate directly, it would be proposed immediately.”

According to Abu Marzouk, Egypt’s chief of intelligence rebuffed the Israeli disarmament demand by rhetorically asking the Israeli negotiators: “Could the US disarm the Taliban that you’re demanding to disarm Hamas?”

‘Hamas is ISIS? No it isn’t’

Asked about statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu equating the ideologies of Hamas and the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, Abu Marzouk was dismissive.

“Unfortunately, the Americans are those who defended us in this regard, saying that Hamas does resemble ISIS. Besides, ISIS considers Hamas heretics,” he said.

Members of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis read out sentences before they behead four men accused of spying for Israel, August 2014. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Members of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis read out sentences before they behead four men accused of spying for Israel, August 2014. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

According to the Hamas official, unnamed Western countries have propped-up the Islamic State in a bid to fight political Islam represented by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Abu Marzouk added that Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis, an Al-Qaeda affiliate active in the Sinai Peninsula, has harmed the Palestinian cause by carrying out military operations against the Egyptian army under the pretense of liberating Palestine.

“When we talk about liberating the land of Bayt Al-Maqdis (Jerusalem) and then comes an organization using that name for local ends, it’s harmful. It diminishes support for the Palestinian cause among Egyptian citizens.”

‘Hamas relations with Egypt set to improve’

Hamas’s shaky relations with Egypt since the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in June 2013 are set to improve in the coming days, Abu Marzouk asserted. For one thing, Hamas has completely severed its ties with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, its mother organization currently outlawed in Egypt.

A smuggling tunnel between Gaza and Egypt (photo credit: Hatem Moussa/AP)
A smuggling tunnel between Gaza and Egypt (photo credit: Hatem Moussa/AP)

Abu Marzouk said that shutting the smuggling tunnels from the Sinai Peninsula will likely reduce cross-border terrorism emanating from Gaza. “We admit that the tunnels are an illegal tool and we have said so from the start, but it is a means imposed on us by the political situation.”

Hamas, he noted, has canceled the official authority responsible for taxing commodities smuggled in from Egypt via the tunnels. It has even handed over smugglers to Egyptian authorities.

“Some 20,000 people were employed in the tunnels, but that story is over,” he said. “We are also trying to reassure the Egyptians regarding the security aspect.”

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