Hamas Official Blames Rockets On Collaborators

The rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel is the work of Israeli collaborators, says Ahmed Yusuf, political adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. He says Hamas was willing to agree to a new cease-fire with Israel, but Israel hadn't lived up to its end of the bargain.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

SIEGEL: Now, we are going to hear from Ahmed Yusuf, who is an adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza. Welcome to the program, Mr. Yusuf.

Mr. AHMED YUSUF (Adviser, Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza): You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in Cairo that Hamas brought this Israel attack on by failing to extend the truce that Egypt had brokered. The Israelis say that. Why wouldn't Hamas agree to extend that truce?

Mr. YUSUF: You know, actually, we have said we are willing to extend the cease-fire. But the terms that we have agreed upon in Cairo, the Israelis never fulfilled their promises. They're suppose to have these crossings open for humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, 50 percent of the time, these crossing never been opened, and the number of the trucks that's suppose to come daily to Gaza - there is no cement, no asphalt, no plastic, or everything. Many items of medical supplies not allowed to cross to Gaza.

SIEGEL: But, wasn't the response of firing rockets into Israel…

Mr. YUSUF: There is no - actually, when we…

SIEGEL: Wasn't that guaranteed to bring on this retaliation by the Israelis?

Mr. YUSUF: No. No. This has nothing to do with firing rockets because there is no rockets fired. There are collaborators, sometimes they fire based on the Israeli asking them maybe to fire some of these home-made projectiles. They know that Hamas did their best to protect the border and not to let anybody firing rockets.

SIEGEL: But you're saying that when rockets have been fired out of Gaza, you're saying that those are being fired by Israeli collaborators whom the Israelis are arranging for them to do that, so that…

Mr. YUSUF: Actually, we all - let me try me to check if there is anybody actually - we check with those political and militant group who are really showing their commitment. And when we check, well, they - all them denied any of them been firing rockets. So, who been firing these rockets? We don't have an explanation except from those Israeli collaborators. So, we told them, we would like to keep this cease-fire and keep the - stop their aggression and also opening the gate. Hamas is willing to keep the cease-fire, and we are willing to extend it to another six months, but we need a commitment from the Israeli side.

Unfortunately, all the time they deceive the world community by claiming many things, and unfortunately, we are the people who really suffering, and this air strike they targeting everything, universities, mosques, schools, civilian home, residential areas, and also all the governmental building, which has nothing to do with these firing rockets as they keep claiming.

SIEGEL: The United Nations reported that, out of more than 300 Palestinian deaths, there were a little bit over 50 civilians. Does that mean that many Hamas gunmen and many Hamas officials have been killed in these Israeli strikes?

Mr. YUSUF: There are many people, actually, from the police force, because they targeting all the police station, which has nothing to do with all what they claim the firing rockets or anything of this. This is the police force who tried to keep the state of security, enforcing the state of law. And this kind of aggression is against international law. It is a crime against humanity.

SIEGEL: Mr. Yusuf, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. YUSUF: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Ahmed Yusuf, who is an adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister. He spoke to us from Gaza.

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Israeli Planes Pound Gaza Targets

Map of the region
Alyson Hurt/NPR

Israeli warplanes pounded Hamas targets in Gaza for a third day Monday, hitting buildings and key installations linked to the Islamic group as Israel continued a major offensive that has killed more than 300 Palestinians.

Israel launched its deadliest attack on Gaza in decades Saturday in hopes of striking a knockout blow against Hamas, which controls the region. The offensive came in retaliation for rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israeli towns after Hamas ended a six-month unilateral cease-fire.

The three-day death toll included seven children younger than 15 who were killed in two separate strikes late Sunday and Monday, medics said. Hospitals report that they are having difficulty coping with casualties.

Most of those killed since Saturday are thought to have been members of Hamas security forces. The United Nations agency in charge of Palestinian refugees said at least 51 of the dead were civilians.

The strikes appear to have hampered Hamas' rocket-launching capability, but a rocket fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon killed a man there Monday and wounded several others. On Sunday, Hamas missiles struck near the city of Ashdod, twice as far from Gaza as Ashkelon and only 25 miles from Tel Aviv.

Israel has declared the area around Gaza a closed military zone. In Jerusalem, Israel's Cabinet approved a call-up of 6,500 reserve soldiers Sunday in possible preparation for a ground offensive, an option that Israeli military leaders would not rule out.

Meanwhile, thousands of people throughout the Middle East have taken to the streets carrying images of the death and destruction in Gaza to denounce Israel's assault.

The Bush administration has blamed the renewed violence on the militant Hamas.

"In order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable ceasefire," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

Hamas has "shown its true colors as a terrorist organization," he said.

President-elect Barack Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, said the incoming administration "wants to be a constructive force in helping to bring about the peace and security that both the Israelis and the Palestinians want and deserve."

Alexrod, speaking on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, said Obama would "work closely with the Israelis. ... But he will do so in a way that will promote the cause of peace, and work closely with the Israelis and the Palestinians on that — toward that objective."

The European Union has called for a halt in the fighting but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday admonished world leaders for not doing enough.

"I think regional and international partners have not done enough. They should do more," Ban said in a statement, his third in as many days on the subject of Gaza.

"They should use all possible means to end the violence and encourage political dialogue, emphasizing peaceful ways of resolving differences," he said.

Hundreds of demonstrators convened Sunday outside the Israeli embassy in London and in a predominantly Arab neighborhood in Paris to protest Israeli actions.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year military occupation, but Israeli forces have repeatedly crossed into the territory to hunt militants firing rockets at Israeli towns.

From NPR and wire reports

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