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Hamas leader rejects Israeli conditions for truce

Khaled Mashaal, the exiled leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas said that Israel's conditions for a long-term truce with Hamas were "unacceptable."

world Updated: Jan 29, 2009 01:31 IST

The exiled leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas said Wednesday that Israel's conditions for a long-term truce with Hamas were "unacceptable." Khaled Mashaal said Hamas will not accept that Israel open the border crossings with the Gaza Strip only after Hamas releases an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants in June 2006. "We were recently informed of (Israel's) conditions for calm ... We reject these Israeli conditions. We will not accept them," Mashaal said.

Mashaal spoke from Doha, Qatar, where he is visiting to thank Qatar for its solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during Israel's 22-day offensive to rout out Hamas rockets. His remarks were aired on Al-Jazeera satellite television.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said earlier Wednesday that crossings with Gaza "will only open permanently" after the freeing of Sgt. Gilad Schalit.

Mashaal reiterated that Hamas insists that thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails be released in return for Schalit. Hamas has resisted any linkage between Schalit and the reopening of crossings.

"In response to the child killer, Olmert," Mashaal said, "I say to you in the name of Hamas and in the name of the heroes who are holding Schalit, we will not accept that crossings be opened in return for Schalit."

Mashaal added that Hamas wants Palestinian prisoners in return for Schalit's freedom. Israel has in the past rejected the demand, but media reports have said it is softening its position following the recent military offensive in Gaza.

Schalit was captured in June 2006 during a cross-border raid by Hamas-allied militants on an outpost guarded by his tank unit. Mashaal lives in exile in Syria, where he heads Hamas' political bureau and is believed to be its highest leader. He fears an assassination by Israel, which tried to kill him in 1997, when agents sprayed him with poison on a street in Amman but he survived. He rarely travels and his movements are mostly kept secret. Hamas is labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel. There have recently been hints of a rift between the Syria-based Hamas leadership and those in the Gaza Strip.