GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas leaders said on Sunday they did not expect to extend a six-month ceasefire with Israel in the Gaza Strip when it expires this week, although it remained unclear whether this would mean an immediate surge in violence.
Israel, which has traded fire with Palestinian Islamists in the enclave in recent weeks, sent a senior official to Cairo and said it was ready to prolong the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire which began on June 19. and runs out on Friday.
In an interview in Damascus, where he lives in exile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told Al-Quds Television: “We in Hamas, and in most of the factions, think that after December 19 the truce ends and it will not be renewed.”
He complained that Israel had not eased its blockade on the territory, as Hamas had hoped when it agreed to end rocket fire.
“We are studying the issue of the calm with our allies ... and, God willing, we will reach a vision within the coming days,” Meshaal said.
“But I believe the general mood, among the people and among the factions is against extending calm because the enemy did not abide by its obligations.”
A Hamas official in Gaza, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group would issue a formal statement in a few days that the ceasefire would end.
“Hamas’s decision is not to renew calm after it expires,” the official said.
The truce had dampened violence but began to unravel early last month after a deadly Israeli raid prompted militants to resume firing makeshift rockets into the Jewish state.
After Israel sent a senior Defense Ministry official to Cairo, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.
“Israel has been, and continues to be, ready to abide by the understandings negotiated through Egypt,” Mark Regev said.
“But it is clear that we won’t be doing so unilaterally,” he added, citing what he called Hamas’s “daily grave violations of those understandings.”
Olmert resigned in September over a corruption scandal but will stay on in a caretaker capacity until after a parliamentary election in February, raising doubts over Israel’s readiness to mount a major offensive in Gaza for the time being.
Policy toward Hamas is a key issue in the election, with front-running party leaders Tzipi Livni of the ruling Kadima party and Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud opposition both vowing to try to halt rocket attacks on towns near the Gaza border.
“As long as Hamas continues to use terror from Gaza, Israel will us its own means,” Livni, who is Olmert’s foreign minister, was quoted as saying by Israeli media.
Hamas rallied up to 200,000 supporters in sea of green Islamic banners in Gaza on Sunday, showing off the movement’s strength a year and a half after it seized control of the enclave in a brief, bloody civil war with the rival secular Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas leaders at the rally marking the group’s 21st anniversary derided Fatah “rats” and predicted Abbas’s downfall.
Reminiscent of rallies organized by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which shares many features with Hamas, the Gaza rally included music and sketches, including one mocking an Israeli soldier whom Hamas has been holding captive in Gaza since 2006.
Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Damascus and Joseph Nasr in Jerusalem; Writing by Adam Entous and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Michael Roddy
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