Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said the militant group will "gladly take up the challenge posed by Israel" on Monday, several days after Hamas blamed Israel for the assassination of its senior operative in Gaza last week.
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Mazen Fuqaha, a senior member of Hamas’ military wing, was gunned down in the southern Gaza City neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa on Friday. The gunmen were equipped with silencers, a statement by Gaza' interior ministry said. According to Gaza police, Fuqaha was shot four times in the head.
"The struggle against the Zionist enemy is an ongoing war for as long as the occupation lasts," Meshal said, speaking at a memorial for Fuqaha. Thousands attended the event, including Hamas' Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, his predecessor Ismail Haniyeh and Sinwar's deputy Khalil al-Hayya, along with other senior Hamas leaders.
"This is a great challenge for us that joins the open account between us and [Israel]," he said, adding that if Israel is looking to change the rules of the game, "then we accept it."
The assassination of Fuqaha is a message from Israel to Hamas and its leadership that they are not safe even in the center of Gaza, Meshal said.
The Hamas leader described the assassination as a settling of accounts by Israel with one of the most senior prisoners released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner deal with the group.
"Our will is stronger and the war between us and the Zionist enemy is conducted in waves. They kill us and we kill them, and in the end we will be victorious," said Meshal.
Fuqaha was sentenced to life in prison and an additional 50 years for planning a suicide bombing on a bus in northern Israel in 2002, where nine Israelis were killed. But in 2011, Fuqaha was released as part of a prisoner exchange deal to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Fuqaha, originally from the village of Tubas in the northern West Bank, was exiled at Israel’s demand to Gaza. He was considered a senior member of Hamas’ West Bank command, which gave orders and funds to West bank cells.
The Gaza prosecution accused Israel's espionage agency on Saturday of assassinating Fuqaha, saying the murder "clearly bears Mossad's fingerprints."