January 5, 2009 / 3:57 PM / 10 years ago

Hamas seeks truce but says lifting siege a must

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Hamas is open to international initiatives for a truce in Gaza but insists any proposal must guarantee Israeli withdrawal and an end to the blockade on the besieged territory, an exiled Hamas leader said on Monday.

A demonstrator holds a picture of slain Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin during a protest against Israel's offensive in Gaza outside the Egyptian consulate in Istanbul January 5, 2009. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Moussa Abu Marzouk vowed that the Palestinian Islamic group would keep fighting an uneven war with Israel rather than return to the blockade, one of the grievances cited by Hamas when it chose not to renew a truce with Israel last month.

“Any initiative not based on ending the aggression, opening the border crossings and an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip has no chance of succeeding,” Abu Marzouk told Reuters in an interview in Damascus.

“The defeat of the enemy and its failure to achieve its objectives must be reflected in the situation to come. I agree that the rules of the game must change, but in Hamas’s favour,” said Abu Marzouk, who lives in Syria along with other members of the group’s exiled leadership.

Syria has been at the centre of efforts to solve the crisis. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due to visit Damascus on Tuesday as part of a Middle East tour to push for a truce.

Saeed Jalili, a senior Iranian security official, was in Damascus last week and two high level Hamas members in exile in Syria were due to travel to Cairo to discuss an Egyptian proposal to stop the war.

Israel has resisted international calls for a cease-fire, saying that its war objectives have not been achieved. The Jewish state launched the offensive on Dec 27 with the declared aim of quelling rocket fire from Gaza.

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Abu Marzouk, deputy chief of Hamas’s politburo, said that the group had decided to send a delegation to Cairo despite the group’s misgivings about Egyptian help to Israel to enforce the blockade of Gaza.

Diplomats in the Syrian capital said Hamas has been keen to keep the lines of communications with Egypt open, since the U.S.-backed Cairo government was one of the better placed regional players able to influence a truce.

Turkey, which has contacts with Israel and Hamas, has also initiated diplomatic moves, including a meeting with Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials in Damascus last week.

“We know that Egypt is unhappy about Hamas’s presence in Gaza. There isn’t a complete proposal on the table. But let us wait... We are seeking an immediate cease-fire,” Abu Marzouk said.

Abu Markouk did not reveal details of any proposed cease-fire Hamas would be willing to accept, but said he expected Hamas to emerge stronger.

“The balance of power is uneven but we have the will and the capability to hurt the enemy,” he said.

Abu Marzouk said the ferocity of the invasion — Israel has killed more than 530 Palestinians in the last 10 days — has won Hamas international sympathy beyond Syria and Iran, its main backers.

Hamas leaders in Syria have been in contact with officials from the two countries about the crisis, but Abu Marzouk would not be drawn on what Tehran and Syria have advised Hamas.

Jalili, the Iranian security official who met officials from Syria, Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, said that the Islamic republic would cooperate with the international community on a cease-fire that lifts the blockade on Gaza.

Editing by Dominic Evans

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