May 7, 2021
Hamas leader Mohammed Deif. (Archives: Channel 2 News)
The shadowy leader of the armed wing of the Hamas terrorist group has issued his first public statement in nearly seven years, warning Israel it will pay a "heavy price" if it evicts Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem.
Mohammed Deif has been in hiding for more than two decades and is believed to be paralyzed after surviving multiple assassination attempts. The most recent was during 2014's Operation Protective Edge, when an Israeli airstrike killed his wife and infant son, according to Hamas.
His last public statement was an audio recording in which he said Hamas chose to attack soldiers rather than civilians. The recording was accompanied by footage of Hamas fighters attacking a small Israeli military base near the Gaza Strip. Despite his claims, Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at civilian areas during the war.
The only known image of Deif is a 30-year-old ID photo released by Israel, and even in Gaza, only a handful of people would recognize him.
Late Tuesday, Hamas circulated what it described as a pre-recorded audio statement from Deif over the encrypted messaging service Telegram.
In it, Deif says he was sending a "clear, final warning" that if Israel goes through with the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, then Hamas "will not stand by helplessly and the enemy will pay a heavy price."
Several Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have been embroiled in a long-running legal battle with Israeli groups trying to acquire property in the neighborhood near Jerusalem's famed Old City. Protesters have scuffled with police there in recent days.
Recently, Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli police over restrictions on gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Hamas egged on the clashes and Gaza terrorists fired rockets at Israel in support of the protesters.
Hamas appears to be seizing on the threatened Sheikh Jarrah evictions to bolster its image as an armed resistance movement in contrast to President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which engages in security coordination with Israel.
Last month, Abbas indefinitely delayed the first Palestinian elections in 15 years, citing Israeli restrictions in east Jerusalem. Critics saw that as a pretext for calling off a vote in which Abbas' Fatah party appeared likely to lose power and influence to Hamas, which denounced the postponement as a "coup."
Despite the harsh rhetoric, in Gaza, where Hamas seized power from Abbas' forces in 2007, the terrorist group has largely observed an informal cease-fire with Israel in recent years in exchange for the easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the territory.