Hamas, Islamic Jihad truce talks end without deal

ISMAILIA, Egypt Thu Mar 27, 2008 12:46pm EDT

1 of 2. A woman holds her baby in front of a Palestinian flag during a protest calling for an end to the differences between Hamas and Fatah, in Gaza March 26, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammed Salem

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ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) - A new round of talks between Egypt and the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad ended on Thursday without agreement on striking a truce with Israel.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they rejected a ceasefire unless Israel stopped all raids in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, ended its Gaza blockade and reopened the coastal territory's border crossings.

"In Hamas we stressed our position that calm must be simultaneous, reciprocal and comprehensive," said Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha.

Over the past two weeks, Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip have refrained from carrying out rocket attacks against Israel.

Israel, denying it is involved in ceasefire negotiations but saying it would have no reason to strike Hamas if salvoes ceased, has stopped targeting the group's Gaza militants in what appears to be a de facto truce between the two enemies.

Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib, whose group has continued to fire rockets at Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, told Reuters: "The Zionist occupation wanted calm to be limited to Gaza and we say any calm must be comprehensive and reciprocal."

Egypt, with U.S. blessing, has been trying to negotiate a cessation of hostilities between Israel and the militants from the Gaza Strip, territory Hamas Islamists seized in June from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction.

The cross-border violence has threatened U.S.-brokered peace talks between Abbas and Israel which Washington hopes can result in a deal before President George W. Bush leaves office in January.

The latest truce talks, which also looked at the prospects of reopening the Rafah border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, were held on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing.

The talks were attended by Hamas official Jamal Abu Hashem and Khaled al-Batsh of Islamic Jihad. General Mohamed Ibrahim, a senior aide to intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and another unidentified official represented Egypt.

Both sides agreed to resume discussions but did not set a date for the next meeting, one source said.

Israel tightened a Gaza blockade after the Hamas takeover nine months ago, raising international fears of a humanitarian crisis, which the Jewish state has pledged to prevent.

In addition to wanting an end to Israeli raids and the reopening of the Gaza border crossing, Hamas has demanded a say in running the crossings, a condition that Israel rejects. The Islamist movement has spurned international calls to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing Israeli-Palestinian interim peace agreements.

(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Alaa Shahine and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Caroline Drees)

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