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Hamas leader says Gaza only "milestone to reaching our objective"

Source: Reuters - Thu, 28 Aug 2014 18:59 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Meshaal says Hamas will not give up arms in any peace deal

* Urges Egypt to open Rafah border as "brotherly action"

* Presents current truce as victory for Palestinian people (Adds more quotes)

By Amena Bakr

DOHA, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Hamas will not cease resisting Israel until all its demands are met, the group's overall leader Khaled Meshaal said on Thursday, adding the latest Gaza conflict was only "a milestone to reaching our objective".

Speaking at a news conference in Doha, where he lives in exile, Meshaal said the group would never give up its arms as part of any deal. He also said the group's military commander, caught earlier this month in an Israeli air strike, was "fine".

"You cannot contain the resistance, because the resistance is in our thoughts and in our souls ... our resistance will continue until all our demands are met and we are getting closer to victory and al-Quds (Jerusalem)," he said.

"This is not the end. This is just a milestone to reaching our objective. We know that Israel is strong and is aided by the international community. We will not restrict our dreams or make compromises to our demands," Meshaal said.

Israel launched its assault on the Gaza strip with the declared aim of stopping rocket attacks against Israel and destroying tunnels it said Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist, was using to infiltrate the country.

Hamas also called on Egypt to open the Rafah border crossing, as "a brotherly action".

"The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that it be up for negotiation," Meshaal said. "There is no politics with out resistance and there is no resistance without arms."

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are seeking guarantees that weapons will not enter Gaza, a narrow, densely populated territory of 1.8 million people.

Speaking next to a large billboard with the slogan "A nation constructing its victory", Meshaal presented the current Gaza truce as a victory for the Palestinian people.

"Our enemy only comes under pressure when they are under fire," he said. "As our rockets hit them, they were forced to hold talks with us."

Palestinian health officials say 2,139 people, most of them civilians, including more than 490 children, have been killed in the enclave since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive.

Israel's death toll stood at 64 soldiers and six civilians.

HAMAS COMMANDER "FINE"

An open-ended ceasefire, mediated by Egypt, took effect on Tuesday evening. It called for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza's blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt, and a widening of the territory's fishing zone in the Mediterranean.

Under a second stage of the truce that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss construction of a Gaza sea port and Israel's release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, possibly in a trade for the remains of two Israeli soldiers believed held by Hamas, officials have said.

Israel has said it would facilitate the flow of more civilian goods and humanitarian and reconstruction aid into the impoverished territory if the truce was honoured.

Meshaal described the condition of the group's military commander Mohammed Deif as "fine", after what it terms an Israeli assassination attempt on him earlier this month.

Hamas' military wing, the Izz-el-Din al-Qassam Brigades, had said at the time that Israel had missed its target and that Deif's wife and seven-month-old son were killed in the attack.

Deif was widely believed to be masterminding the Islamist group's military campaign from underground bunkers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declined to say whether Israel had tried to kill Deif, but said militant leaders were legitimate targets and that "none are immune" from attack.

Meshaal said that his message to the international community was that Hamas was not against people of different religions.

"To the Jews of the world, I tell you we are not against you because of your religion. Our problem is with occupation and settlement," he said.

Israel has said it dealt a strong blow to Hamas, killing several of its military leaders and destroying the Islamist group's cross-border infiltration tunnels.

But Israel also faced persistent rocket fire for nearly two months that caused an exodus from a number of border communities and disrupted daily life in its commercial heartland. (Writing by Yara Bayoumy; editing by Tom Heneghan)

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