Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal denounced Israeli attacks against civilians in the Gaza strip on Saturday, describing it as "the real holocaust."
Forty-three Gazans, at least half of them civilians, have died in pitched battles between Israeli troops and
Palestinian rocket squads that began Wednesday and escalated sharply on Saturday. West Bank leaders have threatened to suspend peace talks to protest the Israeli attacks, which came as Gaza militants bombarded southern Israel with dozens of rockets and mortars.
"Israeli actions in Gaza since Wednesday is the real holocaust," Mashaal told reporters in Damascus, where he lives in exile. He accused Israel of "exaggerating the holocaust and using it to blackmail the world."
"Israel wants to exaggerate the holocaust and make from it a tragedy such that no other can have their own tragedy," he said. "The Palestinian people are the victims and Israel is the hangman and killer."
If IDF forces launch a Gaza incursion, warned Mashaal, all Gazans will confront them: "I have only this to say to the terrorists leading the enemy – Olmert, Barak and the rest of you – decide what ever your want. Should you be stupid enough to enter Gaza – we will fight you… not only will you face thousands of warriors, you will have a million and a half people ready to fight you, ready to die as martyrs," he said.
"With all your weapons you are still cowards… we know you well. You have your equipment to thank for your might. We do not ridicule that, but you use the US, you use the weakness of the Arab nations. This will not last for much longer. We will defeat you eventually," he added.
"I wish I could be in Gaza right now. I wish my four sons could fight and seek martyrdom… why this escalation? We have forgotten the truth – the enemy is always looking for excuses to engage in war.
"Israel is undoubtedly after all leaders, not just those of Hamas," he continued. "Israel will go after Hamas, Jihad, Fatah – everybody. Everyone is in their sights because they are Palestinians."
Mashaal went on and warned that Israel will not be able to topple the Hamas government in Gaza: “What Israel wants is territory, our holy sites; they want our people dead in genocide or in bloody battle, or to chase us away from our homeland…. I tell the Zionist enemy and the whole world that buys into his lies that the Palestinian people are the real victims, and the Israelis are the ones perpetrating crimes.
Cry of the innocents
"We are an occupied people," he continued. "We did not attack anyone. We are the victims and Israel our executioner….we do not want to fight, or for our people to be killed, but we are acting in self-defense against an occupier that has forced this impossible situation on us.
“What alternatives do we have to warfare? We have been trying to reach a peace accord since 1991 to no avail. Nothing happened following the Annapolis peace summit, and we have been trying to negotiate for years. Even our own Palestinians negotiators are beginning to doubt that a peace deal will ever be reached, so what are we waiting for, really?”
“Would a Palestinians actually embrace Al Qaeda? I blame Abbas (Abu Mazen) for allowing this genocide in Gaza. Whoever assumes that the Qassam rockets and Al Qaeda are the reason for this Gaza genocide is merely endorsing it,” said Mashaal.
He also blamed some European countries, without naming them, for keeping silent on Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians: "It is shameful that some Western countries try to clear their conscience with regards to the Holocaust that took place on their own land by being silent on the real Holocaust being committed by Israel against the Palestinian people," he said.
Mashaal's multiple references to the Holocaust appeared to be a reaction to a statement Friday by Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai who told Israeli Army Radio that Israel had "no other choice" but to launch a massive military operation in Gaza.
Vilnai said the Palestinians would be "bringing upon themselves a greater 'shoah' because we will use all our strength in every way we deem appropriate, whether in airstrikes or on the ground."
The Hebrew word "Shoah" Most often refers to the Holocaust but Israelis use it to describe all sorts of
Vilnai spokesman Eitan Ginzburg said the deputy defense minister never intended it as a reference to the
Holocaust but used the word "Shoah" to denote a disaster. Mashaal warned Israel against the "folly" of invading Gaza, saying Israeli soldiers would be defeated by Palestinians who "will fight like lions."
The Hamas leader called on Arabs and Muslims worldwide to "go back to the streets in the East and West ... To tell the world that 'we will not stay silent in the face of this Holocaust'."
Naim Qassem, Hizbullah's Deputy Secretary General likewise condemned “Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip and noted that “Israeli aggression on Gaza’s women, children and elderly is far worse than the Holocaust. This is part of an international conspiracy against the Palestinian people led by the united States.”
AP contributed to this report