Truce last chance for Hamas, says Israel PM Olmert

Thu Jun 19, 2008 3:08am EDT

(Note language in paragraph 2)

CANBERRA, June 19 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Hamas on Thursday that an Egypt-brokered truce pact was the militant group's last chance to avoid another Israeli military incursion into the Gaza Strip.

Hamas supporters and the people of Gaza were "pissed off with Hamas" after years of violence, Olmert said in an interview with Australia's Sydney Morning Herald.

"I think the strategy of Hamas, which does not want to recognise Israel's right to exist in the first place, and the extremism, and the fanaticism, and the religious dogmatism, is the enemy of peace," Olmert reportedly told the newspaper.

"We are at the end of our tolerance with regard to terror in Gaza."

The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took effect in the Gaza Strip at 6 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Thursday, but both sides have voiced doubt over how long the truce might hold. In return for the truce Israel was to lift an economic embargo on the Strip.

Just before the truce took effect, an Israeli missile strike killed one Palestinian gunman and wounded another near the border fence with Israel in the central part of the Gaza Strip, medical workers and militants said.

Olmert said that, since Israel withdrew from Gaza three years ago, the 250,000 Israelis living in the area surrounding Gaza had endured almost daily rocket attacks from Palestinian militants, adding that no state would put up with a similar situation. But he said he remained optimistic that Israel could eventually strike a peace deal with Syria and the Palestinian West Bank, as well as Lebanon.

OLMERT-ASSAD MEETING?

Indirect negotiations with Syrian representatives in Turkey have led to speculation about a first-ever meeting between Olmert and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Paris.

Olmert said a peace with longtime foe Damascus, including Israel's return of the Golan Heights captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, would not take long to work out and would reshape the entire Middle East and force Syria to end its alliance with Iran.

"I also think it can succeed. I mean business, I want to do it, and I will continue to make the necessary efforts," Olmert told the newspaper.

Olmert said an agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could also be struck by the end of this year, resolving differences over land boundaries, the status of East Jerusalem, and security arrangements.

"If we reach an understanding, then borders will be fixed. What falls on the Israeli side will remain Israeli, what falls on the Palestinian side will become Palestinian, even if it was built by Israel," Olmert told the Herald.

The embattled Israeli leader, whose opinion polls ratings hit record lows after accusations of receiving illegal cash donations, said Iran was the biggest threat to a Middle East peace.

"I don't think we deserve to live under the threat of a nuclear Iran. The problem is not wherever the Iranians will use it, or that they have the capacity," Olmert said.

"I don't think, given the nature of this (Iranian) government and this regime, Israel can be expected to live under even the threat that they may use it." (Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Roger Crabb)



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