Hamas confirmed for the first time on Monday that between 600-700 of its militants were killed during Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008, Israel Radio reported.
Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 in efforts to curb missile fire from the Palestinian territory into Israel's southern communities. Immediately following the operation, Hamas reported that fewer than 50 of its men had been killed.
Hamas' Interior Minister Fathi Hamad, who was confirmed the figures in an interview with the London-based Arabic language daily Al-Hayat, said that 250 of its police officers were killed "in addition to the 200-300 members of the Al-Qassam Brigade [Hamas' military wing] and 150 security personnel".
Israel Radio indicated that these figures were consistent with the numbers initially reported by the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Unit immediately following the operation, which Hamas denied.
Hamad also addressed the ongoing negotiations over the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, saying that Israel wants to complete a prisoner exchange deal "at the lowest possible price" but that eventually it will come around and pay the full price Hamas demands.
Shalit was captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in 2006. Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons, some involved in deadly attacks against Israelis, in exchange for Shalit's release.
Hamad also denied allegations that al-Qaida operatives were active in Gaza. "We are moderate people, and we don't like extremists or fanatics," he told Al-Hayat. "We don't need weapons or Jihad fighters – anyone who wants to help us can send money."
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