( AP ) - The exiled leader of Hamas said Friday the militant Palestinian group rejected a European offer for an indirect meeting with Israelis to discuss a possible truce, adding Palestinians have no choice other than "resistance."
Speaking at a rally in Damascus marking Hamas' 20th anniversary, Khaled Mashaal also called on moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of the rival Fatah movement, to hold unconditional talks with Hamas.
Mashaal also said that "some Europeans have offered us to meet indirectly with Israelis to discuss a truce and we told them no and one thousand no's." He did not say what European country made the offer.
On Monday, Abbas took a conciliatory tone toward his Hamas rivals in a major policy speech, calling for a "new page" in relations between the bitter enemies. Fatah and Hamas have been at odds since Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2006. Those differences boiled over into open warfare that peaked with Hamas' driving Fatah out of Gaza in June.
Mashaal said that Abbas' Palestinian authority has made reconciliation talks conditional on a number of concessions from Hamas including an apology.
"We are ready for a dialogue without conditions. Our hands are extended and all matters should be put on the table including elections," Mashaal said.
He also made it clear that Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas-linked militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006, will not be released without the freedom of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
"The matter of the prisoners bloodies our heart," Mashaal said, adding that "Gilad Shalit will not be released unless our prisoners are released." He did not give further details.
Mashaal said that a recent U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md., had not stopped the building of settlements in Palestinian territories nor improved the lives of Palestinians, noting that 560 Israeli checkpoints are still in place.
He added that this leaves his people with no choice but to fight.
"Give our people another alternative. As long as the horizons are closed and there are no other alternatives then there is nothing our people can do other than resistance," he said.
Mashaal said that since Hamas was founded in the late 1980s, its ability to hit Israel had improved.
"It (Hamas) added momentum to the resistance with its special operations, whether martyrdom (suicide) operations, its performance, steadfastness or rockets," Mashaal said referring to the Israeli siege against Gaza and the group's rockets that fall on Israeli towns.