'We Can’t Prevail Against a Nuclear Power': Hamas' Gaza Chief Says He Doesn't Want War With Israel

Yahya Sinwar says he agreed to give first interview to Israeli newspaper because there's 'a real chance for change.' He warns, however, that current situation guarantees escalation of violence

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, center, during his visit to the border with Israel, April 20, 2018.
Khalil Hamra / AP

UPDATE: READ THE EXPANDED VERSION HERE

Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip called for a ceasefire with Israel and said he doesn't want another war, in what appears to be his first-ever interview with an Israeli paper.

Excerpts of Yahya Sinwar’s interview were published Thursday in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth ahead of its full publication on Friday. The interview was given to an Italian journalist and will be published in full in La Repubblica as well. Speaking in Gaza, Sinwar told reporter Francesca Borri that he agreed to the interview because “he now sees a real chance for change.”

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Sinwar said that neither side is interested in another war. “It's in no one’s interest. We cannot prevail in a confrontation against a nuclear power,” he said. “And certainly [another conflict] is not in our interest. War gains nothing.”

“I am not saying I won’t fight anymore, I’m saying I don’t want more wars. I want the siege [on Gaza] to end,” he said, adding that his commitment was to the “interests of my people. To protect them and their right to freedom and independence.”

When asked if he feels responsible for part of the humanitarian crisis in the Strip, with half the population of Gaza living in hunger, Sinwar said: “The responsibility lies with those who have sealed the border, and not with those who tried to open it. Our responsibility is to cooperate with those willing to help put an end to the seige,” he said, hinting at the ongoing indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, mediated by the Egyptians and the United Nations.

“In the current situation, an explosion [of violence] is unavoidable,” Sinwar said.

Regarding the conditions for a possible cease-fire, the Hamas leader, who served 22 years in an Israeli prison and was released in an exchange deal in 2011, said: ״Complete quiet. And the end of the siege.”

Stressing that ending the blockade is key to ensuring a lasting cease-fire with Israel, Sinwar said that it was not a “calm in return for calm” deal, but rather “calm in return for calm and end of the siege. The siege is a form of war by other means.”

Sinwar was also asked whether a deal to secure the release of Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, two Israeli civilians held in Gaza, and the return of bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two Israeli soldiers killed there during the 2014 conflict, were part of the negotiated cease-fire agreement. Sinwar called such a deal "vital," saying that “the issue of prisoners is crucial, it’s a moral issue to me - not a political one and I will do everything to see all those sitting in Israeli jails are released.”

When asked what would happen if efforts to negotiate a cease-fire fail, Sinwar said: “the deal does not yet exist. Hamas and all other Palestinian factions are ready to sign and respect the deal. But now there is only the occupation. If we are attacked, we will defend ourselves. As always and then there will be another war. But then in one year we will meet again and I will tell you the same thing: War gains nothing.”

Meanwhile, the British newspaper The Telegraph published a report detailing Sinwar’s meeting with Palestinian journalists in which he laid out his strategic vision. According to the report, the Hamas leader wants to reach a deal with Israel and bring about a cease-fire in return for having the siege on Gaza lifted. The report said that Sinwar hopes to continue holding indirect talks with Israel until mid-October. However, if no deal is reached by then, Hamas will reignite border protests and “make everyone suffer.”

At the end of his interview with the Italian journalist, Sinwar explained to her why he had granted her an interview, despite her previous reports revealing that Hamas had cracked down on Fatah activists in Gaza during the border protests.

“Your article was very hard on us. And on top of that, your work is regularly translated in Hebrew. And yet you are here. Again, because you have a profound respect for us, and we have a profound respect for you. Sometimes, the messenger is also the message. You will leave now and you will tell all this. Will they read you? Will they listen to you? I don’t know. But I did [take] my step forward.”