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Hamas head says ceasefire deal must lift Gaza siege

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas will reject a truce with Israel being mediated by Egypt unless the deal includes lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Friday.

Addressing a rally in Damascus, Meshaal said Hamas had only received “vague” proposals from Egypt without an Israeli commitment to lift the siege, which Hamas regards as an illegal collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million population.

“We will not accept a truce unless it is in return for lifting the siege, opening the border crossings and acceleration of the reconstruction of Gaza,” he added.

“The enemy has not presented us so far with any guarantee to remove the blockade. There will not be calm if the demands of our people are not met.”

Hamas officials are due to return to Cairo on Saturday to give a final reply to proposals to reach an 18-month truce with Israel following its offensive in Gaza, which was halted last month when the two sides declared separate ceasefires.

Hamas cited the blockade as a main reason for not renewing a previous six-month truce with Israel in December.

Israel said it invaded Gaza to punish Hamas for rocket attacks on Israel from the small territory. Rockets have been fired sporadically at Israel in recent days, with Israel responding with air strikes on Gaza.

Meshaal did not address the rockets issue directly but said Hamas would stick with armed struggle to regain occupied land.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel but has offered the Jewish state a truce lasting decades if it withdraws from land it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, including East Jerusalem.

RESISTANCE

“The Gaza war has re-enforced popular confidence in the resistance as the way to liberation. Nothing will restore our land and regain our Jerusalem except resistance,” Meshaal said.

Meshaal dismissed criticism by members of the Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahomud Abbas that Hamas is blinded by Islamist ideology. He said Hamas’s cause was national liberation and cited the support for Hamas of secular Turkey.

“Whoever stands by us is welcome,” said Meshaal, who lives in exile in Syria, along with other Palestinian leaders.

Ramadan Shallah, head of Islamic Jihad, also addressed the “Gaza Won” rally and said the Gaza invasion was a chapter in a century-old war to “cancel Palestinian resistance, to make us stop demanding our rights in our Palestinian homeland and to lift the white flag.”

Shallah said the Palestinians considered they had emerged victorious from the Gaza conflict because Israel had failed to neutralize the rocket arsenal in the territory and break the will of its population.

“We prevented our enemy from achieving its objective,” Shallah said. “It was a victory for the will to live, a triumph for freedom.”

Editing by Andrew Roche

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