Several senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders appeared in public on Tuesday shortly after a Gaza truce took hold, the first time they had done so since the conflict began on July 8.
Among them was Mahmud al-Zahar, a senior member of the Hamas political wing, and senior Jihad official Mohammed al-Hindi, who gave a rousing victory speech to thousands of people gathered in a square in Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood.
As the fighting began, the leadership of both groups went to ground and did not make a single public appearance for fear of being targeted by Israel, who said all of them were legitimate targets for assassination.
“We’re going to build our port and our airport, and if they attack our port, we will attack theirs and if they attack our airport, we will attack theirs – again,” Zahar told the crowd.
He was referring to a two-day suspension of flights into Tel Aviv by major US and European airlines in mid-July after a rocket from Gaza struck near the runway, a move hailed as a victory by Hamas.
During the seven-week war, which claimed the lives of more than 2,140 Palestinians and 69 on the Israeli side, Hamas and Jihad militants managed to inflict upon Israel its heaviest military losses since 2006 with 64 soldiers among the dead.
But Zahar promised that as well as rebuilding the battered enclave, the Islamist movement would continue “arming itself and developing its resistance capacity.”
Israel has made the disarming of Gaza militant groups a key demand in truce talks which will resume in Cairo within the month.
Over the past seven weeks, Israel says it destroyed more than 30 Hamas attack tunnels running under the border, and bombed thousands of rocket launchers and weapons manufacturing facilities.
It has also killed three Hamas commanders and a top financial figure within the movement.
Last week, the air force targeted Mohammed Deif, leader of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, in a strike which killed his wife and two young children. Hamas said Deif escaped unharmed.