Hamas Leader Says Israel Isn’t Upholding Cease-Fire Terms

Hamas Leader Says Israel Isn’t Upholding Cease-Fire Terms

GAZA CITY — The head of Hamas, the militant Islamic group that rules the Gaza Strip, accused Israel on Thursday of “blackmail” and slow-walking the easing of border restrictions under a tenuous cease-fire agreement reached last month after repeated rounds of violence.

“The understandings today are in critical condition,” the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, told foreign journalists at a rare news conference here in Gaza City.

The hot-and-hotter Israel-Gaza border nearly devolved into a full-blown war during a bloody weekend of rocket attacks and airstrikes in May, before both sides were pulled back from the brink by Egypt and the United Nations, which brokered a standoff agreement through indirect talks.

Complicating matters: The terms of the cease-fire are not written and made public, leaving each side to fault the other with little public accountability.

Mr. Haniya complained that Israel had failed to ease restrictions at border crossings, was continually restricting and extending the zone in which it lets Gaza fishermen ply the Mediterranean as a “form of blackmail,” and had committed “naval piracy” by firing on and arresting fishermen and confiscating dozens of boats.

“It’s a very complicated mosaic when it comes to Israeli behavior,” he said, adding at another point: “They are moody.”

By contrast, he said, Hamas was living up to “95 percent” of its promises: “All rough acts” had been halted along the border, except for what he dismissed as a few stray incendiary devices launched by Gazan children. A full cease-fire was in effect on the Gaza side, he added, “except for self-defense.”

Bigger projects like a hospital, a water-treatment plant and a new power line all remained in limbo, Mr. Haniya said.

An Israeli military spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Israeli officials have painted a starkly different picture of the campaign against Israel’s southern farmlands. Far from child’s play, they say, incendiary devices are being launched continuously by Gaza militants who have found a way to use a slow-burning fuse to set multiple fires with a single balloon.

Mr. Haniya kept largely to Hamas talking points in the two-hour news conference at a seaside hotel in Gaza City, bashing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and the international community for failing to intervene.

He deflected questions about Hamas’s repression of its own citizens, saying that Gazan protesters who had been beaten by Hamas were out to create “chaos” and that there were “documents” to prove it.

And he simply ignored questions about whether Hamas, in launching rockets at Israel, fires them indiscriminately or intentionally at civilians, and whether it endangers its own civilian population by firing rockets from residential neighborhoods.

Mr. Haniya lamented that Israeli elections, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s understandings with Hamas have subjected him to enormous criticism on the left and right, had delayed the process, and speculated that a repeat election, now set for September, could only exacerbate matters.

“We might find ourselves in the same place,” he said.

Mr. Haniya also appealed to Arab countries to steer clear of next week’s American-led conference in Bahrain, which is designed to show Palestinians the kind of economic benefits they could reap under the Trump administration’s long-delayed Middle East peace plan.

“We fear Manama will be the gateway to normalization between Israel and the Arabs,” Mr. Haniya said about the capital of Bahrain, speaking Arabic through an interpreter provided by Hamas.

He said the Bahrain conference “comes with an economic title but a political core,” and dismissed it as an attempt to buy off the Palestinians, though he also said that he did not believe any actual investment would materialize from the conference.

All that mattered, he said, was that Israel’s decade-long blockade of Gaza be brought to an end. “Whoever is involved in it should atone for his guilt by extending a helping hand,” Mr. Haniya said. “But any support must be unconditional.”

As for Israelis being held by Hamas in hopes of a prisoner swap — two soldiers believed to be dead and two civilians thought to be alive — Mr. Haniya refused to say definitively whether the four are alive, a matter of intense interest in Israel.

“That answer would be revealed after coming to a deal,” he said, laughing. “Everything has a price.”

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