Last updated: 10 August, 2014

Durable truce must lead to lifting Gaza blockade, says Hamas chief

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal insisted Sunday that his movement’s demands, particularly the lifting of the Gaza blockade, had to be met before a durable truce with Israel could be achieved.

In an exclusive interview with AFP, Meshaal said the 72-hour ceasefire Hamas reached with Israel on Sunday “is one of the ways or tactics to ensure successful negotiations or to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza”.

The final “goal we insist on is having the demands of Palestinians met and the Gaza Strip exist without a blockade”.

“We insist on this goal. In the case of Israeli procrastination or continued aggression, Hamas is ready with other Palestinian factions to resist on the ground and politically and… to face all possibilities,” he said.

Meshaal spoke to AFP for one hour at his tightly-secured villa in Doha.

Lifting the eight-year blockade has been a main demand of Hamas which also wants the Rafah border crossing with Egypt opened and Palestinians being held prisoner by Israel freed.

– Hamas demands ‘not unnatural’-

“These demands are not unnatural. These are rights of the Palestinian people who want to live without blockade, starving, and a travel ban,” said the bearded Meshaal.

The exiled leader’s remarks come as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on Sunday accepted an Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza from one minute past midnight local time (21:01 GMT Sunday).

“One of the most important results of this war on Gaza, even before its end, is that lifting the blockade has been placed on the regional and international agenda,” Meshaal said, pointing to European and US calls to ease the blockade on Gaza.

Israel says it is ready to ease the blockade only if its security needs are guaranteed.

Hamas also wants fishing zones extended, and to have a port and an airport.

More than a month of bloody fighting in and around Gaza has killed at least 1,939 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.

The UN says just under three quarters of those killed in Gaza were civilians, and around a third of the civilian victims were children.

Meshaal said a high death toll was inevitable.

“No people got rid of an occupation without paying a price,” he said, noting that “Algerians paid with 1.5 million lives and the Vietnamese 3.5 million” in their wars against colonial forces.

– Netanyahu has ‘failed’ –

Meshaal also claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “failed militarily” and is facing “an internal crisis”.

“He is trying to achieve through negotiations what he has failed to achieve by military means.”

Israel, he added, had been “surprised by the capabilities of the Palestinian resistance”.

“Demonstrations across the world and anger at Israel’s crimes forced Netanyahu to withdraw his ground troops that carried out massacres” in Gaza.

“Netanyahu is suffering from Israeli public opinion that feels the army’s adventure has failed and that Netanyahu did not provide settlers with security”, while coming under international pressure to end the war.

– Traditional alliances –

On Hamas’ ties with its traditional allies Iran and Shiite Lebanese militia Hezbollah, Meshaal said that his movement is still in contact with both sides.

“We are united by our fight against the Israeli occupation” despite “some differences towards certain issues, including Syria,” he said.

Meshaal left his Damascus exiled headquarters in 2012 for Doha after refusing to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests there.

Tehran, Hezbollah, and Assad’s regime had long backed Hamas before differences arose following the Syrian uprising that erupted in 2011.

In tribute to the energy-rich Gulf country now hosting him, Meshaal said that “Qatar’s stance is great and exceptional,” adding that his presence in Doha “was never a burden” for Qatar as Hamas does not interfere in any country’s internal affairs.

On internal Palestinian issues, Meshaal said that reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation of president Mahmud Abbas, at odds for years, is moving forward “step by step”.