Gaza strike hardens Hamas position
In an interview, key Hamas strategist Mahmoud Zahar discusses how his movement has been preparing for a potentially imminent Israeli assault on Gaza.
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Zahar says Mr. Ghoul was arrested because he was threatening to have the salaries of government workers withheld if they reported to work, and because of ties to what he says has been a campaign of market bombings carried out by Fatah. Fatah says Ghoul had simply come to Gaza for his mother's funeral. Zahar says other Fatah officials have been arrested for corruption. "No one is arrested for his political beliefs, but for their crimes," Zahar said.Skip to next paragraph
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More commonly, police loyal to Hamas arrest Fatah activists for a day or two, a form of intimidation, Fatah alleges. "I haven't slept at home for three days because they're looking for me," says one Fatah activist. "We have very little room to operate here."
Tuesday's Israeli attack inside Gaza was the most serious in months. In addition to leaving 17 people dead – three of them civilians – 45 Palestinians were wounded. Concerns rose about a major Israeli assault on the territory, something some senior Israeli commanders have been pushing for.
"We will suffer a little bit more and more [from Kassam attacks], and eventually, there will be a large Israeli operation in Gaza," said Maj. Gen. (res.) Isaac Ben-Israel, a Kadima member of Knesset and a missile expert.
He pointed to a recent launching of a longer-range rocket on Ashkelon as an indication that a more substantive Israeli military assault may be forthcoming. "Once they will continue launching rockets on Ashkelon, no Israeli prime minister will be able to stop the Israeli operation in Gaza we've talked about," Dr. Ben-Israel said.
Though most of the dead were gunmen, such attacks typically bolster support for Hamas. Even Abbas, a diehard enemy of Hamas who has asked Israel to hold its fire to give peace talks a chance, expressed outrage.
"There was a massacre today against our people, and we say to the world that our people will not remain silent against such crimes," Abbas said. A statement by his government said the attack was "a slap in the face" to the recent peace push. Israeli President Shimon Peres defended the attack, saying "we are left without a choice" in the face of rocket fire from Gaza.
Hamas: 'We're ready'
If Israel decides on a broader offensive, Zahar and other Hamas officials say they're ready. A senior commander in the Qassam Brigades, Hamas's armed wing, says that his men have been building and stockpiling rockets, planting homemade bombs in the territory, and otherwise preparing for an assault.
"If they come, a lot of damage will be done to us, but we're going to make sure losses will be heavy on their side, too," says the militant. "They say it's about the rocket fire, but that's not it. The Israeli project is to have a disarmed Palestinian Authority, one they can fully control."
In his interview with the Monitor, Zahar said Hamas was still willing to negotiate with Israel through intermediaries on a prisoner swap for Israel soldier Gilad Shalit, seized in June 2006. His group is demanding more than 1,000 Palestinian militants held by Israel.
"We think we're being very reasonable; most of the people we're asking for have served 15 years in prison. But they say they won't release anyone with blood on their hands. Well, [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert has blood on his hands and blood in his pockets. We all have blood on our hands," said Zahar, who is Hamas's sole surviving founder.