GazaThe Gaza head of the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas said on Monday it had increased its military capabilities thanks to newly improved relations with Iran.
In a rare meeting with a select group of journalists, Yahya al-Sinwar said Iran was “the biggest supporter” of Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
Hamas was “developing military strength in order to liberate Palestine,” Sinwar said in response to a question, but he also stressed that the movement did not seek war.
Hamas has run Gaza since 2007 and received Iranian support including military backing for years before it was reduced following a falling out over the Syrian issue.
It was the first time Sinwar had spoken on record with international journalists since he became the organisation’s Gaza chief in February.
Sinwar said relations with Islamic Republic had improved in recent months, with a delegation visiting Tehran.
“The Iranian military support to Hamas and al-Qassam is strategic,” he added, saying the relationship had “become fantastic and returned to its former era”.
“Every day we build missiles and continue military training,” he added, saying that thousands of people are working “day and night” to prepare for the next conflict.
However, he stressed that the resistance movement “doesn’t want a war and takes every effort to avoid a war”.
“At the same time we are not afraid of a war and are ready for it.”
The Islamist movement, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, most recently in 2014.
– Former top commander –
The election of the 56-year-old in February was seen by analysts as Hamas’s military wing asserting power over the political one.
Prior to taking the job, he was a top commander in Qassam with decades of intelligence experience and a reputation as a fierce advocate of military struggle against Israel.
He also speaks Hebrew well, having spent 23 years in Israeli jails with four life sentences for “terrorist activities”. He was released in a prisoner swap in 2011.
Sinwar has reached out both to old allies and to enemies as Hamas seeks to avoid regional isolation.
Relations with Iran had faltered over Syria, where Tehran backed Syrian army while Hamas distanced themselves from Damascus regime.
However, Sinwar has sought to push previous tensions under the carpet and rebuild relations — sending a high-level delegation to meet Iranian politicians.
At the same time he has made overtures to Mohammed Dahlan, a former ally of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas turned rival who is seen as close to the Egyptian government.
Palestinian Authority leader Abbas has in turn sought to squeeze Hamas by reducing the amount of electricity the PA paid for in Gaza, further worsening a power crisis there. Residents now receive only a few hours of mains electricity a day.
Sinwar called on Abbas to form a government of national unity with Hamas “for a year or two in preparation for holding presidential and legislative elections”.
Multiple attempts at reconciliation between Abbas’s Fatah movement and Hamas have failed.
Be Part of Quality Journalism
Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.