Despite reports that Hamas is interested in maintaining the cease-fire with Israel, military officials remain convinced that the Islamist group is working to rebuild its system of underground tunnels in the Gaza Strip.In an interview with Israel Radio, IDF Col. Nochi Mandel, the deputy commander of the Gaza Division, said on Tuesday that Hamas is hard at work in rehabilitating its military capacity, which took a severe beating during the 50-day Operation Protective Edge. “According to what we know, Hamas is building its forces up again,” he said. “It is training its forces and boosting the number of mortars that it manufacturers. It continues to bolster its arsenal and dig more tunnels.”
“We need to look at things realistically,” he said. “Hamas is doing what it can to improve its readiness in case of renewed hostilities.”Mandel said that while Israel does not foresee further fighting in the near future, the army is keeping a close eye on what is taking place on the other side of the southern frontier.The colonel said that while he is certain Hamas continues to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip, “the volume is much less than it was” before the war, which began a year ago this week.Razi Hamed, the de facto deputy foreign minister of the Hamas administration in Gaza, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that the Islamist movement has no desire to engage Israel in another round of fighting.Instead, Hamed insisted, Hamas is intent on preserving quiet in the Gaza Strip.According to Israel Radio, Hamed denied reports that his organization is engaged in either direct or indirect negotiations with Israel over a long-term ceasefire in Gaza.
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Hamed said that he did not envision a scenario in which the Hamas military wing would seek to escalate tensions on the ground in defiance of orders from the political echelon.
He told Israel Radio that the new roadway being paved adjacent to the Gaza border fence is to be utilized for purposes of defense as well as maintaining law and order internally.
The Hamas official also said that the materials used for construction are not falling into the hands of the military wing. Israel has long suspected that the organization will seek to use these raw materials to rebuild its system of underground tunnels.
Hamed said that the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains unchanged following Operation Protective Edge.
When asked whether Hamas was engaged in talks to give up the remains of dead IDF soldiers who fell in the conflict, Hamed refused to say.