Hamas leader Ismail Haniya says the group told mediators it is “ready” if Israel increases its attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip.
“If they (Israel) want to escalate, the resistance is ready; and if they want to stop, the resistance is ready,” Haniya, who currently lives outside the strip, said in a televised address late on Tuesday.
“This is the message that we delivered to all the sides and to whoever is involved,” he added, referring to discussions held with regional leaders since the recent escalation of violence.
Hostilities flared after Hamas, which rules the besieged Gaza Strip, issued an ultimatum on Monday demanding that Israel stand down its security forces from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City after a violent crackdown against Palestinians.
Monday marked the third consecutive day that Israeli police had raided Islam’s third holiest site, firing rubber-coated steel rounds, stun grenades and tear gas at Palestinian worshippers in the final days of the holy month of Ramadan.
The escalation came on the back of mounting tensions over the looming forced expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem that Jewish settlers have been trying to expel them from for decades.
“We have the right to respond to the Israeli offensive and protect the interests of our people as long as the Israeli occupation continues the escalation,” Haniya said.
“What is taking place right now is an honour for our people, our nation,” Haniya said, hailing as a “victory” a barrage of rockets fired on Tel Aviv and other areas on Tuesday.
The Israeli army said that about 1,500 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards various locations in Israel and they have added reinforcements near the enclave’s eastern lands.
Haniya said Israel had “ignited fire in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa and the flames extended to Gaza, therefore, it is responsible for the consequences,” adding that “there is a new balance of power right now”.
Haniya went on to say that linking Jerusalem with the Gaza Strip is reflective of equating “resistance with identity” and hailed the protests that have broken out among Palestinians within Israel and the occupied territories.
“We are all moving together in a coherent manner in order to confront the occupation,” he said.
Haniya renewed the call for all “our Palestinian people to unite the ranks” and called on the Palestinian Authority to “stop security cooperation” with Israel.