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Hamas unlikely to renew truce with Israel

Latest update : 2008-12-15

Hamas supporters turned out in the tens of thousands to mark the movement's 21st anniversary. The Palestinian Islamist movement, which controls Gaza, said it was unlikely to renew a truce with Israel when it expires later this week.

AFP - The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas which controls Gaza said on Sunday that a troubled Cairo-brokered truce with Israel was unlikely to be renewed when it runs out later this week.

But a spokesman for outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert insisted his government remained keen to see it extended beyond Thursday provided Hamas kept its side of the bargain and halted rocket and mortar fire against southern Israel.

Hamas political supremo "Khaled Meshaal said that it is most likely that the truce will not be renewed," a statement from his base in exile in the Syrian capital said.

Meshaal made the remark in an interview with the Lebanon-based television channel Al-Quds that was to be aired later on Sunday to mark the 21st anniverary of the Islamist group's formation at the start of the first Palestinian uprising.

The ceasefire had already been marred by persistent tit-for-tat violence in recent weeks and complaints from Hamas that Israel had failed to keep its side of the bargain by easing its crippling blockade of the aid-dependent Gaza Strip.

Senior Israeli defence ministry official Amos Gilad, who conducted the negotiations for the original truce that went into force on June 19, was back in Cairo on Sunday for talks with Egyptian mediators on an extension.

Neither he nor Egypt's pointman for the negotiations -- intelligence chief Omar Suleiman -- made any comment after their talks.

But the Israeli premier's spokesman Mark Regev later told AFP in Jerusalem: "Israel is interested in calm reigning in the south. It was and is still ready to respect the commitments obtained through the mediation of Egypt."

Gilad -- a reserve major general and key aide of Defence Minister Ehud Barak -- has been an outspoken defender of the Gaza truce despite a flurry of cross-border violence since November 4 that has seen several cabinet ministers call for a major ground offensive.

"Experience shows that military operations don't always solve problems in the Middle East," he said late last month. "You have to find the optimal solution. To date no appropriate military solution has been found for the Strip."

But Hamas had shown mounting frustration with the truce agreement since Israel sharply tightened its blockade of Gaza after last month's resurgence of violence.

For Sunday's anniversary, Hamas staged a show of strength, drawing huge crowds on to the streets of Gaza City that Hamas television said ran into the hundreds of thousands.

Ahead of the rally, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum warned: "There is no sense in extending the truce while the enemy is not respecting it and is keeping Gaza in a state of siege."

In an address to the crowds, the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, boasted that US President George W. Bush's administration had failed to defeat his movement, which had only grown stronger.

Date created : 2008-12-14