Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad on Monday told  London-based newspaperal-Hayat that al-Qaida does not have any presence in Gaza, and discussed casualties in Operation Cast Lead as well as the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange talks.

Hammad said in the interview that Hamas is ready for war but ruled out an escalation anytime soon, saying that "Israel has always sought to escalate the situation in Gaza in order to wage war, and we are not afraid of war." The senior Hamas man continued, "We expect that there are wars to come, but the international situation, and the regional situation is not suitable for war at the present time."

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


RELATED:
Hamas official: Those firing rockets at Israel are rebels
Hamas official: We are on way to liberate Haifa, Acre


However, the Hamas official accused Israel of provoking the US into fighting a war with Iran, saying, "We have the heart of one man," and adding "we have the ability to confront."

Responding to accusations that the people of Gaza had paid the price for Hamas' war with Israel, Hammad retorted, "They say that people who are affected by this war, but is Hamas not a part of the people?"

Talking about losses in the war, Hammad confirmed significant personnel losses in Hamas' military wings for the first time. He said, "On the first day of the war, Israel targeted police stations and 250 martyrs who were part of Hamas and the various factions fell." He added that, "about 200 to 300 were killed from the Qassam Brigades, as well as 150 security personnel."


Hammad also claimed that Israel too had deflated its casualty numbers, claiming that 50 Israelis were killed during Cast Lead, but that "they [Israel] acknowledged only 12 people."

Responding to reports of human rights abuses committed by Hamas security forces in the Strip, he said, "We are not a society of angels." He added: "We seek to advance the institutions and training, we are keen on the prestige of the police and their enforcement of the law. At the same time, we need to preserve the dignity of the citizen."

When asked if he fears al-Qaida cells in the Strip, he responded: "We do not have an al-Qaida base in Gaza." Trying to distance Hamas' ideology from Osama bin-Laden's terrorist group, he claimed, "We are centrists and are proud of that, we do not like zealots and extremists."

Discussing the ongoing prisoner exchange talks with Israel to release Schalit, Hammad said that "Israel is interested in striking a bargain," but pointed out that it wants to limit Hamas' success," and therefore to secure Schalit's release for the cheapest price.

He said that a deal to release Schalit was on the verge of completion, but claimed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu backed out of the deal at the last minute. He claimed that "Netanyahu wanted to prevent a large number of prisoners from being released," adding that there were also issues with the names on the list.