DOHA, Qatar—In an interview with Yahoo News, the political leader of Hamas today vigorously rejected any comparison to ISIL terrorists and pledged that the Palestinian militant group will start giving warnings to Israelis about impending rocket attacks in order to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.
As much of the world expressed revulsion over the beheading of American journalist James Foley by an ISIL executioner, Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal took pains to distance his organization from the Islamist militant group that has conducted a murderous rampage across a large swath of Syria and Iraq.
"This is an opportunity for me to say we are against the killing of any civilians, any journalists," Meshaal said in the interview. But he then turned the accusation against Israel. "The question is who is killing the civilians," he said, asserting that more than 15 journalists have been killed during the Israeli assault on Gaza.
Meshaal acknowledged for the first time that Hamas members — but not the group's political leadership — were behind the slaying of three Israeli settlers on the West Bank in June. But he defended the murders as a legitimate action against Israeli "illegal" occupation.
"We were not aware of this action taken by this group of Hamas members in advance," he said. "But we understand people are frustrated under the occupation and the oppression, and they take all kinds of action."
When asked directly whether Hamas members carried out the abduction of the Israeli teens, Meshaal said: "We learned about these confessions from the Israeli investigation … Hamas political leadership was not aware of all these details. We learned about it later on …
"Our view is that soldiers and settlers on the West Bank are aggressors, and they are illegally living in this occupied and stolen land. And the right to resist is the right of Palestinians."
The hourlong interview was conducted at a gated, unmarked Hamas media office in Doha, Qatar. It came after two days of talks there between Meshaal and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the sprawling palace of Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani following the collapse of a 10-day cease-fire and the resumption of Hamas rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.
In the wide-ranging interview, Meshaal repeatedly blamed Israeli leaders for the current round of violence. He deflected questions about the hundreds of Hamas rockets aimed at Israel, making a new pledge to warn civilians in advance of the attacks.
"We do not target civilians, and we try most of the time to aim at military targets and Israeli bases," Meshaal said. "But we admit that we have a problem. We do not have sophisticated weapons. We do not have the weapons available to our enemy … so aiming is difficult. We do promise you, though, that we will try in the future and we will warn people … We have given warnings to Israeli civilians. We promise that if we get more precise weapons, we will only target military targets."
Asked about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments this week that "Hamas is like ISIS, ISIS is like Hamas," Meshaal called the comparison a "lie" designed to "trick" the American public.
"We are not a religious, violent group," Meshaal said, calling ISIL (the Islamist militant group also known as ISIS) a "totally different phenomenon. We are fighting against aggression in our land."