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Regional Interests

Hamas Blames Evictions For Start Of Latest Fighting With Israel

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we hear an official from Hamas, who was in Gaza. Basem Naim is head of the Hamas International Relations Office. He is a former Palestinian minister of health as well. Welcome to the program, sir.

BASEM NAIM: Thank you very much, sir.

INSKEEP: Why launch hundreds of rockets into populated areas?

NAIM: This story didn't start by launching rockets; this story started by forceful eviction of Palestinians from their houses in Sheikh Jarrah, a second Nakba. And this story started by our forceful - full-force planning of storming the most holiest place for 1.7 billion Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan.

INSKEEP: Forgive me. I understand what you're saying, and let's stipulate that Israel did evict families and that there were protests that Israeli police responded to in Jerusalem and that many people were injured. But the choice that Hamas has had control of is how to respond, and what Hamas has done is launch hundreds of rockets into populated areas, killing civilians. Why do that?

NAIM: Gaza is suffering of a suffocating siege imposed by the Israelis and backed up by the international community, mainly the United States. And the resistance have always tried, in cooperation with the international community and with Europe and other countries, to end the siege and to end this misery here on the ground. And in particular, when it comes to the last events or incidences in Jerusalem, we have sent a lot of messages calling someone to intervene, to stop this massacre against our people in Jerusalem.

INSKEEP: But if you'll forgive me, I don't - I'm not grasping how firing rockets into civilian areas and receiving fire back from Israel that's been very destructive in Gaza - I'm not understanding how that is addressing the problem that you're naming.

NAIM: It is addressing the problem by - because the international - first of all, I have to clear - to clarify one important point. Anarchy (ph) by people under occupation, regardless of - it is Israelis or Muslims, Jewish - they have the right, based on the international law, to resist the occupation by all feasible means, including armed resistance - when to use it, how to use it. Palestinians have the right to defend themselves. And I have to say, if you consider the launching rockets against Israeli cities is not acceptable or rejected, OK, this is your right, but what do you say about being imprisoned - or, I mean, 2 million Palestinians for 15 years under Israeli siege, suffocating siege, where - so that the United Nations called Gaza as the biggest open-air prison. Our Gaza in 2020 is unlivable.

INSKEEP: You're correct, largely correct, in your description of Gaza. We've reported from there. I've reported from there. You have said in response to the question about why fire missiles into populated areas that you believe Hamas has the right to do this as an occupied people. I guess, then, my next question is whether you think it is wise. By doing this, you've exposed Gaza to an Israeli response that you can't really defend against, and a great number of people are killed. Has this been wise?

NAIM: Israel didn't stop attacking Gaza 24 hours, seven days a week, along the last few years. If you live in Gaza, you can hear 24 hours, seven days a week, air drones in the sky and attacking people here and there. I mean, the Israeli aggression didn't stop because of Hamas rockets.

INSKEEP: How much longer are you expecting the firing to go? From Hamas' point of view, there are now calls for a cease-fire. How many more days will you go on?

NAIM: From the first minute, we were contacted by the different parties. I mean, you and Egyptians and countries, we have said we are ready to stop firing. I think you can hear now bombardment of our office. We have...

INSKEEP: Was that bombardment, or was that a rocket being launched?

NAIM: Yes. No, no, bombardment from the navy, from the Israeli navy, I mean. From the first moment, Gaza have said, we are ready to stop immediately, resisting or fighting, if the Israeli do two things - stop the aggression against our people and, second, stop their plans to evict our people forcefully from Sheikh Jarrah and stop the plans to - of storming the mosque by extremist Jewish settlers.

INSKEEP: Are you going to continue indefinitely until that happens, then, or is there some point at which...

NAIM: No, we...

INSKEEP: ...This would end?

NAIM: We are in contact, 24 hours, with the brokers, mediators, and we have said it from the beginning. We are ready to stop immediately if the Israelis stop their aggression. But this is the - Israel plans to destroy more houses and to kill more people and to smash (ph) more families.

INSKEEP: Israeli officials have also said that there is a tunnel network underneath Gaza that is used by Hamas fighters, that this is one of the things that they're targeting, that some of these tunnels go underneath buildings. Is it correct that there are tunnel networks in populated areas, and what do you use them for?

NAIM: This is our land. This is our city. We have the right to put all plans - to protect ourself. I think who has nuclear weapons, more than 200 nuclear bombs - he has no right to talk about simple tunnels or homemade projectiles, which - there is no comparison between the Israeli forces and the limited resources of Palestinians who are trying to defend themselves. I think this is our right, how to defend ourselves. But this is not an excuse to attack anyone. Why are you going from the point that we have always the right to attack Palestinians because we are...

INSKEEP: Oh, no, I didn't - I don't believe that I stated that anybody had a particular right. I was asking a question about tunnels. One final thing - do you feel that you have made progress in your cause the last week or so?

NAIM: Look; people under occupation and oppressed people, we have not a lot of chances if we have tried all the tracks to peaceful resolutions. And finally, the international community and Israel is backed up by the United States. Instead of using - the United States using their force to stop this aggression, yesterday Joe Biden have funded the Israelis by more than $735 million of new precise bombs to kill more people here. I mean, we cannot accept to die in silence

INSKEEP: Basem Naim is head of the Hamas International Relations Office, and he is in Gaza. Thank you, sir.

NAIM: Please, thank you very much for inviting me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.