Expanded IDF Operations in Gaza Lead Hamas to Issue Threats

Expanded IDF operations in Gaza have led Hamas to issue threats if they don't stop.

Hana Levi Julian ,

Israel intensified retaliation air strikes Tuesday and Wednesday against terrorists in response to escalated Kassam rocket attacks on the western Negev. Terror cells firing rockets and mortar shells were the primary targets.

IDF forces killed 15 terrorists and several civilians in Gaza on Tuesday. One of the dead terrorists was the son of Hamas commander and former PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar.

Israeli security officials emphasized that Hussam Zahar’s death was not the result of a targeted assassination, but rather came in an exchange of gunfire as he and other terrorists tried to block a Golani Brigade unit from entering neighborhoods in a counter-terrorism sweep in Gaza City.

In an attempt to pressure Israel to ease the IDF offensive, Hamas leaders are threatening not to release Gilad Shilat. Hamas spokesman Ismail El-Muzeini said in an interview on Channel 1 that if the expanded IDF military operations continued, "There is no doubt that it will affect the case of the soldier Gilad Shalit. It is very possible that we will cut off all channels of dialogue on the matter." The senior Hamas official is in charge of matters pertaining to Shalit.

Negotiations mediated by Egyptian officials on a prisoner swap deal for Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in June 2006, have been continuing off and on for more than a year. Recently there were hints of an impending deal, but as has happened several times before, the reports petered out.

Damascus-based Hamas politburo chief and arch-terrorist Khaled Mashaal echoed the warning not to release Shalit at a news conference in the Syrian capital. Mashaal blamed U.S. President George W. Bush and the government of PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas for the clashes, accusing Bush of giving Israel a “green light” to expand operations in Gaza, and slamming Abbas for continuing “futile negotiations” with Israel.

The Damascus-based Hamas leader also said the intensified IDF activity was an attempt by the Olmert government to deflect the public’s attention away from the coalition crisis raised by Yisrael Beiteinu’s withdrawal from the government. “Lieberman has left the government and Shas is also considering doing so, and the Palestinians are paying the price,” he said.