Official Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied yesterday that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal issued directives to kidnap Israeli settlers.
In a post on his Facebook page, Abu Zuhri described the Israeli remarks about Meshaal's involvement in the kidnapping as a "lie". He said: "This is a campaign of claims and lies to justify an Israeli plan to eradicate Hamas.
"It is to cover-up the long hunger strike of the Palestinian prisoners, who have been undergoing a slow death inside Israeli jails."
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported an Israeli security official saying yesterday that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal hinted that his movement would seek to kidnap Israelis in a speech delivered on May 20, about three weeks before three Israeli settlers went missing in the occupied West Bank.
While speaking at an event organised in Doha, Qatar, in solidarity with the hunger strikers, Meshaal said: "I say to the prisoners that your message has reached its destination and you will soon receive a reply from Al-Qassam Brigade, who know how to liberate you."
Meshaal's speech came after he received a leaked message from a Hamas leader held in an Israeli jails. In his message, Hassan Salameh described the plight of the prisoners and their hopes of being freed.
Three Israeli settlers were reported missing last Thursday evening near the Israeli settlement Gush Etzion in Hebron.
Israeli Prime Minister accused Hamas of kidnapping the settlers and launched a massive arrest campaign against its members.
None of the Palestinian factions has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.