Palestinians to respect truce if Israel does - Meshaal

CAIRO Wed Nov 21, 2012 10:45pm GMT

CAIRO (Reuters) - The exiled leader of Hamas said on Wednesday if Israel complied with a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict, Palestinians would do the same but his fighters' "hands were on the trigger" should there be any violations.

Khaled Meshaal said the Palestinians had emerged from the eight-day war victorious, arguing that Israel had lost and the conflict was proof that armed "resistance" was the way forward for the Palestinians.

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. President Barack Obama he was ready to give the ceasefire a chance, but "more forceful action" might be needed if it failed, according to a statement from his office.

"If Israel complies, we are compliant," Meshaal told a news conference in Cairo. "If it does not comply, our hands are on the trigger."

The ceasefire mediated by Egypt brought an end to a conflict that killed more than 140 Palestinians and five Israelis.

Meshaal said the agreement required Israel to open crossings with Gaza, disputing what he described as Israeli assertions to the contrary.

"The document stipulates the opening of the crossings, all the crossings, and not just Rafah," Meshaal said.

That had been one of Meshaal's conditions for a truce. Israel controls all of Gaza's frontiers apart from Rafah, which is on the border with Egypt.

Israeli restrictions on what goes in and out of the Gaza Strip were tightened after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, choking economic life and making it harder for Palestinians there to visit relatives in the West Bank.

Under terms of the brokered deal, the issue would be "dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire". Israeli sources earlier said Israel would not lift the blockade.

Meshaal thanked Egypt for the role it had played as mediator. He singled out President Mohamed Mursi, the Islamist Egyptian head of state elected in June, for particular praise.

Mursi was propelled to power by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that is ideologically aligned with Hamas and which was banned under Hosni Mubarak, the autocrat toppled from power in a mass uprising in 2011. Meshaal also thanked Shi'ite Iran for what he described as arms and funding.

The United States, Meshaal said, had played a "fundamental role" by asking Arab states and Egypt to work for a ceasefire.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's presence alongside Egypt's foreign minister when the ceasefire was announced made Washington a witness to the agreement, he said, describing that as a first.

Meshaal said Israel had suffered a defeat.

"We have come out of this battle with our heads up high," he said. "They failed in their adventure. The magic turned against the magician."

(Reporting by Tom Perry, Shaimaa Fayed and Edmund Blair; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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