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Hamas spokesman: We are 'working to avoid escalation'

Shani Rozanes
June 1, 2021

What is Hamas' vision for the future of Gaza after reaching a cease-fire with Israel. And is it willing to take the bold steps needed to achieve real change? Conflict Zone spoke this week with a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

Destruction after rocket attacks in Beit Lahia, Gaza, Palestinian territories
Much of Gaza was leveled by airstrikes during the conflictImage: Thomas Coex/AFP

Hamas spokesman: We are working to avoid escalation

A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has been holding after the recent surge in fighting, but it remains fragile. As discussions for a long-term agreement backed by Egypt are on the way it is unclear what will be different this time. 

Hamas and Israel have found themselves in several rounds of deadly attacks and counterattacks in the 16 years since Israel withdrew from Gaza. According to the movement's spokesman, Basem Naim, the key for a change in dynamics is not in Hamas' hands: "There are a lot of long-term issues — the occupation, siege on Gaza, the Al-Aqsa compound, the forceful eviction of our people in Sheikh Jarrah." Naim continued: "If all these long-term issues are not tackled and fixed by the international community and if the international community is not able to oblige Israel to accept and respect its obligations as an occupying power, it is a matter of time to go for the next escalation."

The recent 11-day conflict killed 248 Palestinians. Dozens of them were reported to be militants, but there were also at least 66 children killed. More than 1,900 people were injured, according to health officials in the Gaza Strip.

That death toll, Naim said, is an inevitable price for Palestinians to pay in their national fight: "The Israelis' plan was to suffocate the Palestinians, to crush them and to oppress them. ... As long as we are able still to resist the occupation and to defend our people, we consider it relatively as a victory." Pressed by Conflict Zone host Tim Sebastian on the deaths, the Hamas spokesman continued: "We know that we have paid a lot of prices but there was no choice left for Palestinians other than to resist. We are living in Gaza in more than 15 years of a suffocating siege."

Naim, who lost a son in one of the previous incidents with Israel, added: "I know to dream of dignity and freedom and to look for an independent state. This is expected to have some price. It is not an excuse. We are working as much as we can to avoid further escalation."

Who started it?

According to a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, Hamas fired 4,360 rockets toward Israeli cities in the recent round, starting with an attack on Jerusalem on May 10. On that night, the IDF responded with a deadly airstrike in Gaza, starting another round of escalation.

Naim, however, refused to see Hamas as the instigators: "It is an excuse of the Israelis to portray themselves as a victim. What we are doing is only responding to a continuous aggression." He doubled down in response to accusations that Hamas provoked the attacks. "The story started, at least this round of escalation ... when hundreds of our peaceful worshipers in Jerusalem and hundreds of our families in Sheikh Jarrah were forcefully attacked and expelled from their homes," he said in reference to the controversial decision of the Israeli police to storm the Al-Aqsa mosque during the holy period of Ramadan. 

When confronted with the suggestion made by the United Nations that Hamas may have committed war crimes by firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian targets in Israel, he claimed "it is part of international law that occupied people living under a colonial project defend themselves by all means, including armed resistance." Confronted by Sebastian on the veracity of his claim, he later added that Hamas would cooperate with a full investigation on the ground. "We have welcomed, along the last few decades, all UN-assigned investigation committees, and we have cooperated with all of them.... If we have committed war crimes, we are ready to accept this."

UN investigation

Though the UN Human Rights council passed the resolution to launch an investigation into the recent conflict, it is not yet clear yet whether and when such a probe might occur because of the US's position that such an investigation might sabotage the Biden administration's efforts to achieve lasting peace in the region and to rebuild Gaza.

"We have more than 100 UN resolutions in favor of the Palestinian rights; nothing of these resolutions have [been] implemented," Naim said.

"USAID, the international community, mainly the West, are dealing with Israel as a state above the law," he added. "They are giving it the full immunity and impunity to continue its crimes against not only Palestinians but against humanity by violating international law."