Hamas claims 'victory' in Gaza

Abbas calls for mutual and comprehensive cease-fire; Fayad: IDF operation worst since Six Day War.

Hamas capture flag 298.8 (photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas capture flag 298.8
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip on Monday celebrated their "victory" over Israel by pledging to pursue the fight until the "liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea." Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas renewed his call for a mutual and comprehensive cease-fire with Israel, saying he wanted to spare the Palestinians additional casualties and suffering. Abbas urged Israel to accept his initiative and said his government has decided to allocate $5 million to compensate Palestinians who were affected by the last IDF operation. PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad told reporters in Ramallah that the IDF operation was the worst since 1967. He added that despite Israel's announcement that the operation had ended, the situation was still "very, very dangerous." A senior PA official accused Israel of "boosting" Hamas's popularity at the expense of Abbas and the PA leadership. He said that the situation in the West Bank was on the brink of explosion. "If Israel continues its military operations, we will lose control over the West Bank," the official told The Jerusalem Post. "Hamas has managed to send thousands of Palestinians to the streets in the West Bank over the past few days." At a rally attended by thousands of Palestinians in Gaza City, Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader, declared that Israel's five-day military offensive had ended without achieving its goals. "They have failed to stop the rockets of the resistance," he said. "This the moment of victory for Hamas and defeat for Israel." Referring to the IDF pullout from the northern Gaza Strip, Zahar said it was a "great victory for the Palestinian resistance." He went on to warn Israel against repeating its "aggression" against the Gaza Strip. Zahar, who together with most Hamas leaders spent the past five days in hiding, also declared that Hamas's next step would be to breach the border with Israel. Addressing the Israelis, he said: "Before you think of shelling houses and invading [the Gaza Strip], think how you will protect your homes from being stormed by the Hamas soldiers. The next move will be to liberate Jerusalem and all the land of Palestine, from the river to the sea." The Hamas leader also said his movement would not release IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit unless Israel met all its demands and released prisoners belonging to different Palestinian factions. "Hamas does not distinguish between the prisoners," he said. "We won't allow our people to remain in Israeli prisons forever." Zahar also unveiled plans to rebuild all the houses that were damaged or destroyed during the IDF operation. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the decision to end the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip proved that Israel had failed in achieving its goals, first and foremost - toppling the Hamas government. "We hope that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert has learned the lesson from the humiliating defeat of his soldiers at the hands of Hamas," he added. "Despite the heavy price we paid, the Israeli massacres won't break our will and we will continue to fight. If Israel invades the entire Gaza Strip, all the Palestinians will become suicide bombers." Abu Zuhri lashed out at the Arab governments for failing to take a tough stance toward the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip. He also accused Abbas of "collusion" with Israel. Khaled al-Batsh, a senior Islamic Jihad official in the Gaza Strip, boasted that nearly half a million Israelis were now within firing range of Palestinian rockets. He noted that until recently, only 150,000 Israelis were living in areas that were being hit by rockets. He too declared that the Palestinian armed groups had defeated the IDF, forcing it to pull its troops from the northern Gaza Strip after five days of fierce fighting. "The Israeli operation did not achieve anything," he said. "They wanted to impose a truce according to their conditions, but they failed. They also failed in driving our people toward despair so that the Palestinians would accept the so-called road map." The Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of various armed groups, also took credit for "defeating" the IDF. Abu Abir, a spokesman for the group, said Israel was "foolish" enough to think that it could halt the rocket attacks. "Now Israel has included the occupied city of Majdal [Ashkelon] in the fighting," he said. "That's after we had limited the rocket attacks to Sderot."