January 30, 2009 / 1:40 PM / 11 years ago

Senior Hamas leader in first showing since Gaza war

GAZA (Reuters) - A senior member of the Islamist Hamas leadership which went underground when Israel launched its offensive against the Gaza Strip a month ago appeared in public on Friday to address a rally.

Khalil Al-Hayya, one of three survivors of the five best known Hamas leaders, told supporters the group had achieved victory in the war and was now engaged in a political battle.

“We promised to come out to you either as martyrs or as victors,” Hayya told supporters. “Today I come out to you and you are victors.”

About 1,300 Palestinians were killed and more than 4,000 wounded in Israel’s 22-day onslaught. Two members of the Hamas leadership were targeted and killed by air strikes.

Israel lost 10 soldiers in the fighting and three civilians were killed in Israel by Hamas rockets.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gave an interview to Al Quds television on Thursday from an undisclosed location, and remains in seclusion.

Hayya tried to reassure Palestinians whose houses had been destroyed by Israel. “The reconstruction is coming, do not be worried about that,” he said, adding the Hamas government intended to pay the salaries of its employees.

“I tell the resistance fighters, I tell the Qassam fighters, do not drop your weapons, do not put your weapons aside and do not abandon your trenches,” Hayya said.

“I assure our people that the leaders who led the battle of victory are now leading the battle of politics. We are still in the midst of the battle and we are engaging politically,” he said.

Hamas had not yielded on its demands that the Israeli blockade of the Gaza enclave be lifted and Gaza’s borders opened to normal trade, he said.

Hayya reaffirmed his group’s demands to conclude a prisoner swap with Israel that would see the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured in Gaza in 2006.

“Gilad Shalit will never see the light and life until our prisoners see the light among their women and children,” he said.

Israel has said Gaza’s border crossings will not be opened until Shalit is returned.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, writing by Douglas Hamilton

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