Hamas: Recent Israeli escalation aims to weaken Gaza amid blockade

16:04, January 03, 2010      

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Islamic Hamas movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, said on Saturday that the latest Israeli military escalation in the Gaza Strip aims at suffocating the impoverished enclave and increasing pressure on the movement.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Gaza-based Hamas spokesman, said in a statement sent to the press that the recent Israeli aerial and ground strikes on northern, eastern and southern Gaza Strip "is a clear evidence that the Israeli military aggression on the Gaza Strip has never stopped."

"This aggression reflects the barbarian Israeli policy against the Palestinians amid tightening a suffocating siege imposed on the Gaza Strip for more than three years," said Barhoum, who slammed what he termed "the international community's silence towards this criminal escalation."

On Friday night, Israeli war jets and artillery carried out a series of strikes with missiles and shells on northern, eastern and southern Gaza Strip, wounding at least four people, three of whom were militants.

Witnesses said that Israeli warplanes and helicopters hovered over the Gaza Strip for several hours and attacked five targets in the enclave.

The successive Israeli airstrikes came hours after rockets and mortar shells were fired by Gaza militants to Israel on Thursday night.

On Thursday night and Friday afternoon, two Gaza militant groups claimed responsibility for firing two Russian-made (Grad) rockets and four mortar shells from Gaza Strip at southern Israel.

Israeli Radio reported earlier on Friday that two Grad rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed on Thursday night at an opened area in the Negev in southern Israel, causing no harms or casualties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened earlier that Israel will respond to every single rocket that Gaza militants fire at Israel.

Israel has been imposing a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip since the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas in across-border raid on southeast Gaza Strip in June 2006.

Israel announced that it is ready to ease the blockade once a prisoner swap deal is reached with Hamas through the German and the Egyptian mediators.

Hamas militants and two other less influential militant groups have been holding Shalit in captivity and demand Israel to free 1,000 prisoners for releasing him.

Hamas presented a list of 450 names in Israeli prison, but Israel has raised reservations on tens of the names.

On Dec. 23, Hamas received the latest Israeli offer from the German mediator, sources close to Hamas told Xinhua then, adding that Hamas officials wanted to discuss the offer with their higher leadership in Damascus.

Hamas leaders said recently that debate over the Israeli offer is still going on away from any media escalation with Israel.

A senior Hamas official on Saturday told the London-based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat that Hamas will not engage in media battles with Israel over the prisoner exchange deal to free abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The official, who spoke to the daily on condition of anonymity, said Hamas is not interested in opening a "media front" in its conflict with Israel, adding that Hamas is changing tactics regarding prisoner exchanges.

The official, who spoke to the daily from Syria, said that the deal is in the final stages of negotiation and that its completion seems promising.

Once the deal is finalized, Israel will ease the blockade on Gaza, and Egypt will reopen Rafah border crossing on the borders with the Gaza Strip, he added.

Local media reports in Gaza earlier this week indicated there was still disagreement over some prisoners Hamas wanted to be released and over how many of those freed would be exiled from the Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haneya said on Saturday that his government has become stronger after the 22-day Israeli war on the Gaza Strip that ended in Jan. 18, 2008, promising that his government will rebuild what had been destroyed by Israel.

Haneya told a news conference at the Islamic University of Gaza as he inaugurated two buildings destroyed by Israel during the war that "the Israeli war and the Israeli pressure on the government and on Hamas movement have not weakened us."

Source: Xinhua
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