By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times –
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Following its eight-day clash with Israel, Hamas will seek $1 billion in reconstruction aid from the Arab world and international community to help rebuild the Gaza Strip, the group’s deputy foreign minister said Sunday.
Hamas believes the brief conflict, which left 162 Palestinians and six Israelis dead, reshaped the power dynamic between Hamas and Israel, according to Ghazi Hamad, who is seen as one of the organization’s moderate voices. Israel says it dealt a crushing blow to the Islamist militant group.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the senior Hamas official predicted the group and its army would quickly rebuild with the help of new friends on the international stage.
But he acknowledged that Hamas faced a political minefield in navigating between its two main benefactors, Iran and Egypt, which are competing for regional dominance.
Q: What does Hamas see as the single most important accomplishment of the recent conflict?
A: This was a military game-changer. There are new rules. Israel now perhaps has reached the conclusion that Gaza is not so easy to target without retaliation. We sent a strong message to Israel that if Gaza is not safe, your cities are not safe. Tel Aviv will not be safe. Ashkelon will not be safe.
Q: Or Jerusalem, which was also targeted for the first time. Isn’t it reckless to fire rockets at Jerusalem? What if you hit a mosque or killed Palestinians?
A: Look, no, maybe some missile went the wrong way, but it wasn’t something specific. It was just one missile. They didn’t do it again.
Q: No, actually, it was three rockets on two separate days, all landing south of the city.
A: I don’t know. I’m not a military analyst. But I think maybe people were trying to target or hit different places to send the message that none of Israel’s cities are safe. Because of that maybe we will see a longer period of quiet this time. We have the indirect negotiations with Israel, through the Egyptians, going on now to negotiate the rules of the agreement.
Q: Some were surprised that the original cease-fire offered no specific guarantees about easing the blockade or opening the buffer zone along the border. It says those issues will be discussed later, but how can you be sure you’ll ever reach an agreement?
A: Well, regarding the border, people can already reach their homes and farms in the buffer zone.
Q: A young man was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers doing that Friday, when some tried to penetrate the border.
A: That’s right, but now everything is under control. We sent our troops to the border to keep the discipline and order. No one is interested in making an escalation. We’re talking to the Egyptians and making good steps. Now fishermen can go out six miles in the ocean (instead of the previous three). Next we’ll discuss the entrance of goods, and I expect Israel will allow building materials and other prohibited things in. This will be a big achievement.
Q: Israel says it decimated your long-range rocket-firing capability. Have they? Are you working to replace what was destroyed?
A: We didn’t use all our capacity in this war, just about 1,500 rockets. This is an unpredictable region and we might see another round of violence, so the military wing of Hamas and other factions are trying to develop their military capacity. It’s not the first time the military wing was hit. We were destroyed in 1996 by the (rival faction) Palestinian Authority, by Israel in 2001 to 2003. We’ve rebuilt ourselves many times. Hamas always has the ability to rise up again.
Q: How long will it take to rebuild the damaged buildings and infrastructure, and who’s going to pay for it?
A: We think the damage is about $1 billion. We have a plan now to give shelter and money for people. More than 200 homes were damaged. Ninety percent of the security centers were destroyed. Three or four of the government buildings were destroyed. Many countries, Arab and non-Arab, and organizations have told us they are ready to help with the rebuilding.
Q: Hamas gets military and financial support from Iran and, now, political support from Egypt. But those countries are fast becoming regional rivals. What if Hamas is forced to choose between them?
A: Hamas is interested in good relations with all Arab countries, including Iran. We are not interested in losing Iran. Iran has supported us from the beginning. But we will not take commands from Iran. In the Syria crisis, the Iranians tried to convince us about (the Syrian government’s) story. But we said no. Even after the Syrian regime gave Hamas a political and financial umbrella for 20 years and was our best friend in the Middle East, when they reached a point where they were killing their people we said no, we are leaving. Sometimes there’s a contradiction between Egypt and Iran, so we try to move through this minefield very carefully. We don’t want to lose either. It’s not easy.
Q: For much of the past four years, Hamas claimed it was unable to control all the Gaza factions and fringe groups that were firing rockets at Israel, even when Hamas was temporarily advising against such tactics. How will you be able to prevent them from breaking the truce now?
A: We have opened channels and sat with them many times, with Islamic Jihad, even Fatah and other brigades here in Gaza. We have a common interest to keep calm. I can’t say we have 100 percent, but we have 80 percent-90 percent. Maybe some smaller groups are still not satisfied. But as the government we will have to take some crucial steps to stop them.
Q: Meaning cracking down?
A: I can’t say that. But we have discussed it. We will stop anyone who is working against the international consensus. It’s not allowed for anyone to break this understanding.
Q: Until earlier this year, Hamas’ position for nearly four years was that the time was not ripe for armed resistance. What changed your mind?
A: Armed resistance is part of the Hamas strategy. There is no other solution. But Hamas needs to put a political umbrella over the armed resistance.
Q: Yet we just last week saw public executions of collaborators in the streets.
A: This is not acceptable. We will try to make a special government committee to look into this. Most people are against this. Executions should not be done outside the law.