Israeli Defense Chief on Hamas Engineer Killed in Malaysia: ‘The Man Was Not a Saint’

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested on Sunday that the assassination at close range of Hamas engineer Fadi al-Batash in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, over the weekend may have been the result of a settling of accounts within the Islamist group. He did not respond directly, however, when asked if Israel was behind the killing.

In an interview to Kan Reshet Bet radio, Lieberman was asked if he had heard about the engineer’s death before or after it happened. He replied: “We heard about this on the news. There’s a tradition at this point among terrorist organizations of blaming Israel for every settling of accounts.”

“The man was not a saint,” Lieberman said referring to Al-Batash. “He wasn’t involved with improving the electricity grid or infrastructure and water. We have heard the announcements by the heads of the Hamas taking responsibility for the man, explaining the he was involved with the production of rockets, with improving the rockets’ accuracy.”

When Lieberman was asked whether in fact there was no need to shed tears even if the assassination was not carried out by Israel, the Defense Minister responded: “A settling of scores among terrorist organizations, among terrorists, among various factions, is something that we see from time to time. I assume that that’s also what occurred in this case.” When asked which faction would seek Al-Batash’s death, Lieberman replied: “That interests us less. You need to understand that we have no reason to shed a tear.”

In a separate interview with Army Radio, Lieberman spoke about whether Al-Batash would be buried in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls. Al-Batash is a former resident of the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza. “There is a set procedure. We aren’t letting the bodies of Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip,” Lieberman said, adding however, the Israel cannot prevent the body from being brought into Gaza from Egypt, which also borders the coastal enclave, although he said Israel was working to urge the Egyptians not to allow the body in either.

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Al-Batash was assassinated when two unidentified individuals fired more than ten bullets at him. The police chief of the Malaysian capital said there is security camera footage showing the assailants waiting on a motorcycle for an extended period prior to the shooting. The faces of the two were not visible due to the motorcycle helmets they were wearing, the police chief said, adding that investigators are attempting to identify the motorbike’s license plate.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that suspicions are being investigated that “foreign agents” were involved in the hit. According to Palestinian media outlets, Al-Batash’s family as well as a senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Khaled al-Batash, accused Israel’s Mossad espionage agency of carrying out the attack. Mohammed al-Batash, the dead engineer’s father, gave an interview in which he specifically said he considers the Mossad responsible for his son’s death.

“Israel assassinates scientists to destroy the mainstays of the development and science of the nation,” the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, said Saturday. “We have demanded that the Malaysian government open a quick investigation to examine the circumstances of the assassination from up close,” he stated, adding: “The Palestinian people has an open account with the enemy, which has been transferring the campaign abroad and assassinating Palestinian activists, but the Palestinian people will stand strong in the face of these challenges.”

Haniyeh, who spoke at Al-Batash’s family’s mourner’s tent at Jabalya, said the timing of the killing was not happenstance and added that he has sent a Hamas delegation to Malaysia to meet with Malaysian government and police officials to monitor the investigation from up close.