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Israel Rejects Hamas Truce Offer


Israel has rejected a ceasefire offer from the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Hamas offered Israel the truce a day after 13 Palestinian militants, including two top commanders, were killed in a wave of Israeli air strikes in Gaza. Israel launched the raids in response to daily Palestinian rocket attacks.

Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said the ball is in Israel's court.

Hamad told Israel Radio that it takes two parties to make a truce, and Israel should take the first step. He said if Israel stops incursions, assassinations and air strikes, the Palestinians would halt rocket attacks.

But after months of rocket fire on its border communities, Israel is no hurry for a truce, especially after inflicting serious damage on militants in the latest air strikes.

Israeli parliamentarian Ephraim Sneh is a former general in the Labor Party, which is part of the coalition government. He said a truce, or "hudna" as it is called in Arabic, would benefit Hamas, but not Israel.

"A hudna is [a] trap for Israel," he said, "and it is a timeout for Hamas to become stronger, to receive more arms, more money, more explosives, and it is nothing that Israel should endorse."

Tensions between Israel and Hamas have increased since the group seized power in Gaza six months ago, when it routed the forces of the rival Fatah faction led by western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He seeks a negotiated peace with Israel, while Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize the Jewish state.

Despite the power struggle with Hamas, Mr. Abbas's West Bank government says it supports a truce in Gaza. Palestinian officials say a ceasefire would improve the atmosphere at peace talks, which resumed a week ago after a seven-year break.

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