Hamas leader threatens Israel during visit to refugee camp in Lebanon

On a week-long trip to Lebanon, Ismail Haniyeh claims the group has missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv

Hamas' political bureau chief Ismail Haniya greets supporters during a visit to the Ain el-Helweh camp, Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, near the southern coastal city of Sidon on September 6, 2020.  / AFP / Mahmoud ZAYYAT
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Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh used  on Sunday a Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon as a stage to threaten Israel, saying the militant group had missiles that could strike Tel Aviv.

Mr Haniyeh's visit to the Ein El Hilweh camp capped a week-long trip to Lebanon, where he had meetings with Lebanese politicians aligned with Iran and was feted by Hezbollah.

“When I enter Ein El Hilweh and walk among its men and under its rifles and weapons, it is as if I am walking in Gaza and among the Qassam Brigades,” Mr Haniyeh told a rally at the camp, referring to the armed wing of Hamas.

“When we say we have prepared, we did. Our missiles used to have a range of a few kilometres outside the borders of Gaza. Today the resistance has missiles that can pound Tel Aviv and beyond,” said Mr Haniyeh, who is head of the Hamas political bureau.

Mr Haniyeh met Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah at an undisclosed location in Lebanon. A statement by Hezbollah said Mr Haniyeh and Mr Nasrallah “affirmed the solidity of the relationship between Hezbollah and the Hamas Movement”.

A handout picture released by the Hezbollah press office on September 6, 2020 shows Hassan Nasrallah (R), the head of Lebanon's militant Shiite movement Hezbollah, meeting with Hamas' political bureau chief Ismail Haniya (L) at an undisclosed location.  / AFP / Hezbollah press office / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / HEZBOLLAH PRESS OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Hamas, an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, was founded in the 1980s and its charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Since the 2000s, there have been several wars between the group and Israel, with both sides claiming the other sparked the hostilities.

Gaza was under Egyptian administration before Israel occupied the territory in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. But Hamas’s roots can also be also traced to Islamists tolerated for a while by Israel as a counterweight to the secular Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

Hamas defeated the PLO in a 2007 civil war in Gaza and took control of the strip, which is home to almost 2 million Palestinians.

The war erupted a year after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 but objected to conditions set by the US, Russia and other international powers for peace with Israel.

Palestine Liberation Organisation attacks on Israel – unauthorised by the Lebanese government – were a major factor behind the start of Lebanon’s civil war in 1975  and many Lebanese still reject the continued presence of armed Palestinian factions in their country.

In 2008, the US State Department listed Mr Haniyeh as a terrorist. Hamas was already designated as a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union.

Mr Haniyeh arrived in Lebanon shortly after after senior White House adviser Jared Kushner flew from Israel to the UAE last week with a high-level Israeli delegation. It was the first commercial passenger flight between the two countries.

Mr Kushner described the visit as a "historic breakthrough" and a "big turn for optimism" in the Middle East, in an interview with The National.

Jordanian political researcher Hazem Ayyad told The National that Beirut was one of the few Arab capitals where Hamas could "mount an external relations campaign".

“Hamas has a complex set of relations with players across the region,” Mr Ayyad said. “But with the exception of Turkey, Beirut is the only practical platform available to Hamas.”

Militant Palestinian factions from across the ideological spectrum travelled from Damascus to Beirut to meet Mr Haniyeh, and powerful pro-Iranian Lebanese figures gave him high visibility in the Lebanese capital.

Mr Haniyeh also met Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and the head of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate Abbas Ibrahim. The two are among the most effective allies of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Hamas said the meetings countered “projects that target the Palestinian cause”.

Mr Haniyeh also met Lebanese caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab and attended a rally on Saturday with Islamic clerics.

Among those who met Mr Haniyeh in Beirut was Ziad Nakhaleh, head of Islamic Jihad, one of the most loyal pro-Iranian groups in the region, and operatives from the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

Lebanon has 470,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations. They are barred from obtaining Lebanese citizenship and are banned from holding jobs, except for mostly menial work.