BEIRUT (AP) — A senior Hamas official told The Associated Press on Thursday that the Palestinian militant group had expected stronger intervention from Hezbollah in its war with Israel, in a rare public appeal to its allies in the region.
Ghazi Hamad, a member of Hamas' decision-making political bureau, said in an interview that “we need more” from allies, including Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, in light of an Israeli air campaign that Palestinian health officials say has killed more than 7,000 people, mostly civilians, in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The relentless Israeli bombardment of Gaza came in response to a brutal Oct. 7 surprise attack by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel, many of them civilians. More than 200 people were dragged back to Gaza as hostages.
The death toll on both sides is unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is likely to rise if Israel launches an anticipated ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas.
On the sidelines of the Israel-Hamas war, Hezbollah has engaged in regular but limited skirmishes with Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border. There has been widespread speculation as to if and to what extent Hezbollah would expand its involvement in the conflict.
“Hezbollah now is working against the occupation,” Hamad said at the Hamas office in Beirut Thursday. “We appreciate this. But … we need more in order to stop the aggression on Gaza … We expect more.”
Some observers believe that Hezbollah and Iran prefer to avoid the widening of the Israel-Hamas conflict into a regional war. Israel's main backer, the United States, has warned Iran and Hezbollah not to get involved.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah met Wednesday in Beirut with senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri and with Ziad Nakhaleh of the allied group Islamic Jihad. It was the first such meeting to be publicly reported since the beginning of the war.
Amid speculation about the level of involvement by Iran and Hezbollah in planning the Oct. 7 attack, Hamas officials have insisted that they acted alone in deciding to launch the operation.
Hamad reiterated those statements. “The decision was taken by Hamas only, and we took the responsibility (for it),” he said.
He criticized what he said was hypocrisy of the international community, which has widely condemned the killing of Israeli civilians and atrocities committed in the initial Hamas attack but, in Hamad's view, had given Israel a “license to kill” civilians in Gaza in response.
Hamad said that Hamas, which has so far released four of more than 220 hostages after mediation by Egypt and Qatar, is “very open” to discussions for the release of others.
He made no apologies for the high number of civilians killed by Hamas militants in Israel or the soaring civilian death toll in Gaza.
Hamad said the past three weeks brought back the world's attention to the Palestinian cause and revealed the cracks in Israel's ironclad facade.
Israel and the West have branded Hamas, which seeks to establish Palestine as an Islamic state in place of Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, as a terrorist group.
Hamad argued that Hamas' rivals in the West Bank, led by internationally backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, “got nothing” after spending years in fruitless negotiations with Israel on establishing a Palestinian state alongside it.
That approach "got more settlements, more violations, more killing,” Hamad said. “So I think that it is now logical that the use of the resistance is legal against the occupation. And there is no space now to talk about peace with Israel or about a two-state solution or to talk about coexistence.”
Associated Press staff writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report.