A top Hamas official said on Wednesday that “intensifying” Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip would harden the Palestinian group’s negotiating position in mediation efforts towards a truce.

In recent days, Israeli forces have increased raids in northern Gaza as heavy fighting raged again in the far-southern city of Rafah.

And across the besieged territory, deadly strikes hit four schools used as shelters, sparking rebuke from France and Germany which both labelled the attacks “unacceptable.”

When asked about the increased military operations, Hamas official Hossam Badran told AFP that Israel “is trying to pressure negotiations by intensifying bombing operations, displacement, and committing massacres.”

As long-stalled diplomatic efforts have gathered pace, aiming for a hostage release deal and Gaza truce after more than nine months of a devastating war, Badran said that Israel was trying to force Hamas’ hands.

According to Badran, the Israeli government was “hoping that the resistance will relinquish its legitimate demands,” which include a complete ceasefire and full withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza.

But “the continuation of massacres compels us to adhere to our demands,” he said.

On Sunday, a Hamas official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the group was ready to discuss a hostage release deal with Israel, even without a “complete” ceasefire.

But now, Badran said, “We cannot determine to what extent the negotiations can proceed despite the flexibility we have shown.”

Truce negotiations, mediated by Qatar and Egypt with US support, were due to resume in Doha on Wednesday.

Hamas’ political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, warned on Monday that Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza City and Rafah risked sending back “the negotiating process to square one.”

With AFP