Israel rejects Hamas truce proposal as "not serious"

Israel rejected Friday a truce proposal from Hamas, questioning the motives of the Islamist movement in suggesting a ceasefire in its conflict with the Jewish state, dpa reported.

"We feel Hamas is not serious and is trying to rearm and regroup in order to buy time to ready itself for its next terrorist offensive against Israel," government spokesman David Baker said.

The Gaza Strip is the focus of regular fighting between Israel and local militants, as the militias fire rockets into southern Israel on an almost-daily basis, and Israel launches airstrikes on, and ground forays into, the enclave.

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said Thursday night that his organization approved a six-month truce in the Gaza Strip, which could later be expanded to the West Bank.

Hamas said its truce offer was conditional on Israel lifting its blockade of the Gaza Strip, first imposed after militants staged a cross-border raid in June 2006 and snatched an Israeli soldier, who is still being held somewhere in the Strip, with negotiations for his release having so far come to naught.

Israel further tightened its siege after Hamas gunmen routed forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last June and seized security control of the salient, and tightened it still further at the beginning of the year, following a militant rocket offensive on southern Israel.

Egypt has also closed the Rafah crossing point, between the Strip and the Sinai peninsula, following the Hamas takeover. Hamas demands the crossing be reopened, but Israel fears it will use the opportunity to smuggle weapons, money and militants into the enclave.

Hamas had previously demanded that the truce apply simultaneously to the West Bank, where Israel conducts nightly arrest raids.

Al-Zahar said Egypt, which mediated the truce, would present the Hamas truce offer to other Palestinian factions on Tuesday and Wednesday and then Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman would take it to Israel for consideration.

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