Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif presumably died in an Israel Defense Forces’ strike on the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.
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“If we have still not heard Mohammed Deif’s voice on a single audio tape, then apparently there is room for optimism,” he told a group of diplomatic correspondents.
Deif’s wife, baby son and daughter were confirmed killed in the August 19 attack, but his fate, living or dead, has not been confirmed.
Lieberman expressed pessimism about reaching any long-term agreement with Hamas.
“I don’t think we can reach an agreed-upon mechanism with regard to the payment of salaries in Gaza or the strengthening of Hamas. They will continue to manufacture and smuggle weapons, and then how will we stop them from getting stronger? This whole cease-fire, in my opinion, will be limited in time.”
Lieberman added that Hamas could not be allowed to remain in control of Gaza.
“Until Operation Protective Edge broke out, the prime minister’s opinion was similar to mine,” he told the reporters. “My opinion has not changed, but it seems that the prime minister’s opinion has changed.”
Addressed the status of Mahmoud Abbas, Lieberman said the Palestinian president no longer has legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian public. Lieberman said the Palestinian constitution does not authorize Abbas to sign any agreements on behalf of the Palestinian people, because his presidential term had ended.
“Without new elections in the Palestinian Authority, we cannot take any far-reaching steps with the Palestinians. Whoever succeeds Abu Mazen [Abbas] will say we signed on ice and Abu Mazen signed without authority. We cannot choose the leader on the other side, but I want to know that whoever buys my house has enough money to pay and didn’t just come to make me crazy,” Lieberman said.
He added that Abbas wanted to dissolve the Palestinian unity government after learning of a coup against him planned by Hamas operatives. “I think that’s a rift that can’t be mended,” he said. “That wasn’t talk; it was facts that leave no room for doubt.”
A senior diplomatic official said Hamas has begun rebuilding attack tunnels destroyed by Israel, just two weeks into the cease-fire. He said Hamas has resumed smuggling arms through intact tunnels under the Philadelphi Route in Rafah, despite concerted efforts by Egypt.
The official added that production of M-75 rockets, capable of reaching greater Tel Aviv, had resumed in the Gaza Strip. He said that even after the war, Hamas had retained 40 percent of its local rocket manufacturing capacity.
Senior defense officials refuted the claim, saying, “We are unaware of such information and it’s unclear to us what the quoted official is basing [his claim] on, and where he received that information.”