Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri on Israel’s targeted assassinations, lifting the siege on Gaza and Egypt’s role in the crisis

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[File photo] ‘We did not start this war. It was imposed on us,” says Abu Zuhri. “We will defend ourselves as long as the Israeli occupation chooses to fight us. We think that the main outcomes are humanitarian demands related to completely ending the aggression and lifting the siege.’

 

“We are ready for all options, including peaceful ones through mediators, whether they are Egyptians or others. We are also ready for the resistance choice, which is based on exhausting the occupation and putting it under pressure until it accepts our demands.”

When the first ceasefire between Israel and Palestine failed in mid-July, Israeli air strikes bombed the homes of senior Hamas leaders. More houses will no doubt suffer the same fate should the latest 72-hour truce, which began last night, collapse. Israel has pursued a policy of targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders for years.

“I do my best to move naturally and stay among the ordinary people,” says Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesperson for Hamas, on how he navigates the Strip in times of war. “It is natural to sacrifice ourselves the same way our people do, or even more than them. We have to be on the frontline and we will stay this way; I myself will continue to do this. I will remain similar to my brothers whatever the costs are.”

“Our property and our blood are not more expensive than those of our people,” he adds. “The blood of our children is not more expensive than the blood of the other Palestinian children.”

On Sunday the death toll in Gaza exceeded 1,900 following a month of attacks by Israel. Thousands of Palestinians are now homeless and many taking refuge in UN schools. In total, around half a million have been forced out of their homes. The water supply, infrastructure and power generation have been badly affected by the war.

For their part, Israel justified attacks on Gaza with the right to self-defence in the face of rockets being launched from the Strip. Yet the Israeli army has hit six of UNRWA’s 245 schools in Gaza, killing many children. But the UN also says they have also found Palestinian weapons caches in their buildings.

“After they [UNRWA] said they found weapons in one of their schools, it corrected that statement,” says Abu Zuhri. “They said they were unsure about that issue. It did not consult us or any of the Palestinian groups about this issue. We heard about it through mass media. They should have spoken to us before turning to the media in order to deal with the issue officially. Unfortunately, this did not happen.”

“In dealing with the Israeli crimes, they have not uttered any remarks since the beginning, despite Israel committing many crimes on their premises. There was no UN response until their [Israel’s] crimes became bigger and were no longer hidden.”

Abu Zuhri says Hamas has been, and continues to be successful in managing the situation in Gaza. “This is based on security precautions and arrangements the movement prepared earlier, for this moment. This is the secret of the strength of Hamas’ political strategy and its ability to control the military field effectively.”

One element of this political strategy is achieving a united, national position when it comes to the demands of the Palestinian people. Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal recently met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha to do just that.

“It was an historical meeting as there was an agreement to unite the Palestinian position, to adopt Palestinian demands and form a united Palestinian delegation to pass on those demands. Since then the situation has been OK. I think the current situation presented a norm for a united Palestinian effort,” says Abu Zuhri.

The central demand is to lift the air and sea blockade on Gaza. Abu Zuhri says that Hamas are committed to exert even more effort to this end, if it is needed. “What we are committed to is ending the aggression on our people and lifting the siege.”

“We are ready for all options, including peaceful ones through mediators, whether they are Egyptians or others. We are also ready for the resistance choice, which is based on exhausting the occupation and putting it under pressure until it accepts our demands.”

Egypt, Gaza’s neighbour, has brokered all the ceasefires between Israel and Palestine during what it names “Operation Protective Edge”. During the second truce Abu Zuhri reveals there was an attempt to sideline Palestinian demands, but the delegation in Cairo refused to back down. “The Palestinian delegation is united on all the demands of the Palestinian fighters, which are the demands of the Palestinian people,” he says.

In March of this year a court in Egypt banned all the movement’s activities, ordering the seizure of their offices and assets. Three months earlier Egypt had declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. The Interim Government believed Hamas was linked to the Brotherhood.

According to Abu Zuhri the ruling has actually done little to affect his movement. “All of us know the real background of that ruling. Practically, Egypt received Hamas’ official delegation. This is a practical recognition that this ruling is not effective anymore.”

Abu Zuhri believes Egypt is a large state which carries authority and an important history. He is looking forward to Egypt dealing with the crisis in a manner that upholds this legacy, for them to take the side of the Arab, Palestinian issue and to open the Rafah Crossing and ease the effects of the siege.

“We did not start this war. It was imposed on us,” says Abu Zuhri. “We will defend ourselves as long as the Israeli occupation chooses to fight us. We think that the main outcomes are humanitarian demands related to completely ending the aggression and lifting the siege.

“There are also military goals related to the destruction of Israeli deterrence and power and showing that the power of this occupation is no more than a big lie.”

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