As Tensions Rise With Israel, Hamas Chief Calls for Cease-Fire in Gaza Express News
JERUSALEM — In a rare interview with an Israeli newspaper, the leader of Hamas in Gaza called for a cease-fire with Israel, calling it a “historic opportunity for change.”
In what appeared to be an effort to speak directly to the Israeli people, the Hamas official, Yehya Sinwar, said he did not want war with Israel, even as both sides geared up for an escalation along Israel’s volatile border with Gaza.
“A new war is in no one’s interest, certainly not our interest,” Mr. Sinwar said in the interview in the newspaper Yediot Ahronot. “Who really wants to confront a nuclear superpower with four slingshots? War doesn’t achieve anything.”
At the same time, he warned that in the current circumstances, “an explosion is inevitable.”
The interview, an excerpt of which was published Thursday, comes as tensions have increased between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, has been orchestrating weekly demonstrations along the Israeli border for the past six months to protest the blockade of the impoverished Palestinian territory and demand a return to land in what is now Israel. As attendance and international attention have waned in recent weeks, Hamas has ratcheted up its activities, creating special units to expand the protests.
Last Friday, the deadliest day of the protests in months, Israeli forces shot and killed seven Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry, including two boys ages 12 and 14. The Israeli military said rioters had sabotaged security infrastructure, tried to infiltrate Israel and hurled more than 100 grenades and explosive devices toward the fence and Israeli soldiers.
The Israeli military said Thursday it would send “wide-scale” reinforcements to the area in the coming days to continue what it called a “determined policy to thwart terror activity and prevent infiltrations” into Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas that an attack on Israel would be “a very major mistake.”
“Our response will be harsh, very harsh,” he said at a news conference in Jerusalem with Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany.
Analysts saw Mr. Sinwar’s interview as a last-ditch attempt to appeal to the Israeli public and government to ease the blockade on the Palestinian coastal enclave, imposed with Egypt’s help, and to work toward a stable cease-fire or risk a sharp escalation of violence.
Mr. Sinwar said the responsibility for the dire hardship affecting most of Gaza’s two million residents “lies with those who closed the borders, not with those who tried to reopen them.”
“My responsibility is to cooperate with anyone who can help us put an end to the siege,” he said. “In the current situation, an explosion is inevitable.”
In addition to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, has imposed economic sanctions on Gaza, cutting the flow of funds there. Mr. Netanyahu accused the Palestinian Authority on Thursday of “strangling” Gaza and foiling international efforts to provide relief there.
Since the protests began, more than 190 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, according to the Gaza health ministry. One Israeli soldier has been killed, by sniper fire from Gaza.
The conflict has flared into several short but intense rounds of cross-border fighting in recent months, with Hamas firing hundreds of rockets and mortar shells into Israel, and Israel responding with waves of airstrikes against Hamas military targets in Gaza.
Attempts by Egypt and the United Nations to help negotiate a long-term cease-fire have reached an apparent impasse, with Egypt conditioning progress on reconciliation between Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas. Previous reconciliation deals have failed.
The Sinwar interview, which will be published in full on Friday, was a tricky move for both sides. Hamas shuns any open contact with Israelis, and Israel considers the group a terrorist organization.
Soon after the first excerpts were published, Mr. Sinwar’s office claimed he had been duped, saying the correspondent had requested the interview for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and The Guardian in Britain but then “sold” it to the Israeli newspaper.
The interview was conducted by Francesca Borri, a correspondent for La Repubblica, and was also published in Italian.
The first question Ms. Borri asked, according to the Hebrew version, was why Mr. Sinwar had decided to give an interview now, to an Israeli publication no less. “Because now I discern a true opportunity for change,” he replied.
Some of Yediot Ahronot’s opinion writers also felt a need to explain the decision to publish the interview.
Ben-Dror Yemini, a political columnist, said that if Mr. Sinwar wanted to make his voice heard to an Israeli audience, the paper should publish it in the interest of opening dialogue.
“If it helps Israel’s interests, if it will save lives, if it will bring real quiet to the towns of the south,” Mr. Yemini said, “then we must even speak with the devil.”
Ibrahim El-Mughraby contributed reporting from Gaza.