Khaled Meshal, head of the Hamas political bureau, told Sky News in Arabic on Wednesday that his organization is not behind the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens in the West Bank. According to the report, Khaled asked Turkey to intervene in the crisis with Israel and to convey a message that Hamas is interested in calming things down and avoiding further military conflict with Israel.
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The report received prominent coverage in leading Palestinian and Arab media. But on Wednesday night the Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zohari, published a denial.
Several hours after Meshal’s comments were aired, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said that the Palestinian people would not remain indifferent in light of continued Israeli belligerence. Haniyeh said that the Palestinians are united on the issue of Palestinian suffering in the West Bank.
Haniyeh’s response is considered relatively moderate compared to Hamas reactions in recent days. Apparently Haniyeh, who is considered the organization’s supreme authority in the Gaza Strip, does not want to contradict Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Wednesday Abu Zohari wrote on Facebook that the words attributed to Meshal by the Sky network are incorrect. According to Abu Zohari, the official Hamas position is that it has no information about the kidnapping.
But sources close to the Hamas leadership noted that in recent days there have been intensive contacts between Meshal and the Turkish leadership, headed by President Abdullah Gul.
According to these sources, Hamas requested that Turkey convey messages to Israel to the effect that the organization has no connection to the kidnapping. Qatar also conveyed similar messages to Israel and the Palestinian Authority leadership.
Hamas has absolutely no desire for escalation and is actually trying to lower its profile and refrain from “opening a front” with Israel, said the sources. They said that Hamas is asking Turkey and Qatar to convey the messages because these countries are currently considered the organization’s only allies. They noted that the messages attributed to Meshal relate to his discussions with the Turks. But they also expressed fear that continued Israeli pressure on the organization in the West Bank is liable to cause Hamas to react, especially now during the holy month of Ramadan, which is considered a sensitive period.
Last week Meshal said that Hamas had no information about the three kidnapped youths. In an interview with the Qatar-based television station Al Jazeera, Meshal referred to the teenagers as soldiers and said that he was unable to confirm or deny Hamas involvement in the kidnapping. “If it is proven that this is a kidnapping incident carried out by Palestinians then I congratulate them,” said Meshal at the time. “This is a moral duty in order to release the prisoners from Israeli prisons, and to obligate the occupying powers to pay the price of the occupation.”
On Wednesday night Haniyeh issued a condemnation of Israel’s activities, in which he called for international intervention to stop what he described as “Israel’s crimes.” He also mentioned the murder of the East Jerusalem teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and called for the punishment of those responsible. Haniyeh added that the Palestinian people are always prepared to defend themselves and their land.
Since the start of the Israeli operation in the West Bank on June 13, there has been a gradual increase in the number of missiles fired from Gaza. Usually those responsible for the firing are those that Israel has dubbed the “wayward” organizations – smaller factions, and occasionally even local groups that do not accept the authority of the Hamas central government.
The Israel Defense Forces responds with aerial attacks, which in several cases were also directed against Hamas military targets, in order to signal to the organization that Israel considers it responsible for what happens in Gaza.