EXCLUSIVE: Hamas Evacuates Gaza Offices, Deploys Militants Following Jerusalem Bombing

Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, take part in the funeral of a Palestinian fellow militant in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2016

Apparently fearing Israeli retaliation, Hamas has evacuated its offices in Gaza following Monday’s bus bombing in Jerusalem, according to multiple Hamas sources.

Earlier on Monday, Israel announced that a Hamas attack tunnel protruding into Israeli territory was discovered and destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces. Hours later, a bomb exploded on a bus in Jerusalem, wounding 21 people.

Although no group has claimed responsibility for the bus attack, the recent events have heightened tensions between Israel and Hamas.

In addition to taking defensive measures against IDF reprisals, Hamas has also upped the deployment of militants near its offices and along Gaza’s border with Israel in a bid to prevent opposition groups from firing rockets at Israel and risk more escalation, Hamas sources said.

On Tuesday morning, Hamas troops carried out an emergency drill, simulating Israeli airstrikes and featuring explosive sounds and gunshots. The troops practiced evacuation and treatment techniques.

Hamas has announced that a similar drill will take place across the Strip in two weeks’ time.

A Hamas official told Breitbart Jerusalem that a renewal in hostilities is not on the Islamist group’s agenda, “but we must be prepared for any type of Israeli aggression.”

“We hear what Israeli officials say and are aware of the pressure that is applied on (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu to strike Gaza. We must be ready.”

“The drill is essentially defensive,” he added. “It focuses on evacuating Hamas posts and civilians in case the Israelis choose to take advantage of the bus bombing in Jerusalem or the tunnel incident to strike us.”

The official’s statement about evacuating civilians flies in the face of Hamas’s routine use of civilians as human shields.

The official, meanwhile, also said that Israel and Hamas exchanged messages via Qatar, in which the two sides said that they’d rather avoid confrontation. He added that Hamas has demanded that the provisions of the 2014 ceasefire agreement – including lifting the naval blockade on the Strip, allowing for Gaza to rebuild, establishing a maritime passage to the coastal enclave and releasing prisoners – be implemented.

Asked for comment on this report, Eyad Elbazem, a spokesperson for Hamas’ Interior Ministry, told Breitbart Jerusalem that “the (militant) drill was planned in advance and has no relation to the attack in Jerusalem or to the Israeli report on the tunnel.”