Hamas: Don't dare target our leaders

Official in Gaza tells 'Post' negotiations to release Gilad Schalit have been temporarily suspended.

schalit in uniform 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of Gilad Schalit's family)
schalit in uniform 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of Gilad Schalit's family)
Israel can forget about kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit if it goes ahead with its threats to assassinate the political leaders of Hamas, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip warned Monday. The official, who was speaking to The Jerusalem Post by phone, said he was confident that the armed wing of Hamas, Izaddin al-Kassam, would "not remain idle" if Israel assassinated Ismail Haniyeh or Mahmoud Zahar. "The assassination of our political leaders will have serious repercussions on the case of Schalit," he said. "Israel must know that there are red lines that should not be crossed. If Israel decides to carry out its threats, it will have to forget about Schalit forever." The Hamas official pointed out that negotiations to release Schalit have been suspended temporarily because of the crisis that erupted between his movement and Egypt in the past few weeks. Egypt and other countries have been playing a major role in secret negotiations between Israel and Hamas to secure a prisoner exchange between the two parties, he said. "But because of what happened along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, the Egyptians have stopped talking to us." The official reiterated Hamas's readiness for a cease-fire with Israel. He also said that Hamas was keen on moving forward with the talks over the release of Schalit. Also Monday, Hamas accused the Egyptian authorities of "brutally" torturing some 100 Hamas members who had been detained in Sinai after the breaching of the border. Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman, confirmed that the Hamas men were part of terror cells that had entered Egypt with explosives. After declaring that they were not afraid of Israel's threats, most of the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip have gone into hiding out of fear for their lives. Hamas warned that its response would be "unprecedented" and expressed astonishment at the "silence" of the international community. Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator and spokesman, said his movement was taking the threats seriously. "We are taking the threats to kill our leaders very seriously, and that's why we have taken a number of precautionary measures," he said. "At the same time, we warn the enemy against embarking on such a move because it would pave the way for an all-out confrontation." Masri added, however, that Hamas was not afraid of the threats "because we love martyrdom and victory, and we are aware of the risks." He said that in any case he did not believe that the assassination of top Hamas leaders would affect the work of the Hamas government. Ismail Radwan, another senior Hamas official, warned that the assassination of Hamas leaders would lead to the "eruption of a volcano" in the entire region. "The earth will burn beneath the feet of the Zionists," he said. "In the past, the enemy assassinated many Hamas leaders, including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, but this did not affect Hamas." Radwan said that despite the threats, the Hamas leaders had no intention to "raise a white flag or give up one inch of the blessed land of Palestine." Said Siam, one of the top Hamas leaders whose name has been mentioned as a potential target, accused the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah of encouraging Israel to assassinate Haniyeh and other Hamas figures. He said that Hamas was prepared to run the Gaza Strip from tents, houses and streets if Israel destroys Hamas-run security installations and kills Hamas leaders. "If we are destined to die at the hands of the Zionists, then this is a great honor for all of us," he said. "Although these threats are not new, we are taking them seriously." In Ramallah, the PA cabinet of Prime Minister Salaam Fayad warned that an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip or the assassination of Palestinians there would sabotage efforts to revive the peace process and plunge the region into another round of violence. The cabinet urged the US and the rest of the international community to exert pressure on Israel to stop it from carrying out its threats.