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Hamas doubts Gaza truce ready on Thursday

CAIRO (Reuters) - The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas said on Wednesday it doubted Egypt could complete a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza on Thursday, Egypt’s original target date.

Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk told the Arabic satellite channel Al Jazeera the movement still needed clarifications on how far Israel might go toward ending the blockade of Gaza.

Hamas and Israeli officials have held separate talks with Egyptian mediators on the terms for a long-term truce after three weeks of Israeli attacks on the coastal strip and Hamas rocket barrages on southern Israel.

The heaviest fighting ended on January 18 but acts of violence have continued and there is no agreement on truce terms.

Abu Marzouk, speaking from Damascus, said: “There is still much Israeli intransigence ... so I don’t believe there will be the start of a truce tomorrow.”

“There are not enough guarantees for opening the crossing points and there are ambiguous expressions which need to be clarified, and so more clarity is needed,” he added.

Hamas’s main demand is that Israel and Egypt reopen all Gaza’s border crossings so that people and goods can start to move freely again. Gaza has been under blockade most of the time since Hamas took power there in June 2007.

Abu Marzouk said the Israelis were offering to reopen the crossing powers at 70 percent capacity but Hamas wanted a more precise definition of Israel’s commitment.

“These ambiguous expressions are always interpreted in favor of Israel because it is in control of the crossing points,” he said.

Hamas would welcome a European or Turkish presence at the crossings to write reports on what goes through, but Israel rejects this idea, he added.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Wednesday he hoped for a breakthrough over the next few days toward a truce, also suggesting it may not happen on Thursday.

“If it does not take place in the next few days I can confirm that Egypt will keep moving on the path which ensures this truce is achieved in the very near future,” he said.

Abu Marzouk said that a Hamas delegation in Cairo was meeting Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman on Wednesday evening. Suleiman is the main mediator.

Reporting by Jonathan Wright; editing by Michael Roddy