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Hamas leader said civilian death toll could benefit militant group in Gaza war, WSJ reports | CNN

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The military leader of Hamas has said he believes he has gained the upper hand over Israel and that the spiralling civilian death toll in Gaza would work in the militant group’s favor, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal, citing leaked messages the newspaper said it had seen.

“We have the Israelis right where we want them,” Yahya Sinwar told other Hamas leaders recently, according to one of the messages, the WSJ reported Monday. In another, Sinwar is said to have described civilian deaths as “necessary sacrifices” while citing past independence-related conflicts in countries like Algeria.

The WSJ said it reviewed dozens of messages sent to ceasefire negotiators from Sinwar, who has not been seen in public since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel left 1,200 people dead and another 250 taken hostage. The ensuing Israeli assault aimed at eliminating the group has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians in the strip, according to health authorities there.

Sinwar’s whereabouts are unknown but he is assumed to be hiding deep underground in Hamas’ labyrinthine tunnel system below Gaza. The messages reported by the WSJ offer a rare glimpse into the mind of the man steering Hamas’ thinking on the war and suggest an uncompromising determination to continue fighting, regardless of the human cost.

In another exchange that took place as Israel set a deadline in February to enter Rafah before the Muslim month of Ramadan, the WSJ reported that Sinwar urged Hamas’ political leaders not to make concessions and instead push for a permanent end to the war, adding that high civilian casualties would ramp up global pressure on Israel to halt the conflict.

“Israel’s journey in Rafah won’t be a walk in the park,” Sinwar allegedly said in a message to the Hamas political leadership.

CNN has not seen the leaked messages viewed by the WSJ and is not able to confirm the authenticity of the communications.

Commenting on the WSJ report, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on X: “Sinwar profits off the deaths of Gazan civilians, calling them “necessary sacrifices” in order to urge international pressure on Israel’s efforts to eliminate his terrorist organization.”

Mediators are waiting for a Hamas response to an Israeli proposal presented by US President Joe Biden last month, which aims to release the hostages in Gaza and implement a lasting ceasefire there.

Sinwar’s alleged comments emerged as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on another tour through the Middle East to push all sides to agree to the latest proposal. Speaking from Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Blinken made it clear that the US believes Sinwar is the ultimate decision-maker.

“I think there are there those who have influenced, but influence is one thing, actually getting a decision made is the is another thing. I don’t think anyone other than the Hamas leadership in Gaza actually are the ones who can make decisions,” Blinken said, adding that “that is what we are waiting on.”

Blinken said that Hamas’ answer to the proposal will reveal the group’s priorities.

“We await the answer from Hamas in and that will speak volumes about what they want, what they’re looking for, who they’re looking after,” Blinken said. “Are they looking after one guy who may be for now safe … I don’t know, 10 stories underground somewhere in Gaza, while the people that he purports to represent continue to suffer in a crossfire of his own making? Or will he do what’s necessary to actually move this to a better place, to help end the suffering of people to help bring real security to Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

In early messages to ceasefire negotiators, Sinwar seemed “surprised” by the brutality of the October 7 attack on Israel.

“Things went out of control,” Sinwar said in one of his messages, according to the WSJ, adding he was “referring to gangs taking civilian women and children as hostages.”

“People got caught up in this, and that should not have happened,” Sinwar said, according to the WSJ.

The US-designated terrorist had also expressed discontent after not being consulted for a meeting between the Hamas political leaders with other Palestinian factions, calling the meeting “shameful and outrageous.”

“As long as fighters are still standing and we have not lost the war, such contacts should be immediately terminated,” he said, adding that “we have the capabilities to continue fighting for months.”

He had also compared the war in Gaza to a 7th-century battle in Karbala, Iraq, a monumental moment in Islamic history where the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed was killed.

“We have to move forward on the same path we started,” Sinwar reportedly wrote. “Or let it be a new Karbala.”

On Monday, 14 of the 15 United Nations Security Council members voted in favor of a US-drafted resolution around the latest ceasefire proposal, with only Russia abstaining – the first time the council has endorsed such a plan to end the war. Israel is not a member of the UNSC, and so did not vote.

The comprehensive three-stage peace deal, which sets out conditions intended to lead to the eventual release of all remaining hostages, in return for a permanent ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli forces, was first laid out publicly by US President Biden on May 31.

The landmark vote means the UNSC now joins other major global bodies in backing the plan, increasing international pressure on both Hamas and Israel to end the conflict.

Hamas welcomed the adoption of the UNSC resolution, saying in a statement it was ready to engage with mediators to implement measures such as the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, prisoner exchange, returning residents to their homes and the “rejection of any demographic change or reduction in the area of the Gaza Strip.”

The resolution says Israel has accepted the plan, and US officials have repeatedly emphasized Israel had agreed to the proposal – despite other public comments from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that suggest otherwise.

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