Hamas will never recognise Israel, group's leader says

The Islamic Hamas movement will not give in to demands to recognise Israel's right to exist, and sanctions imposed against it by the Jewish state have only succeeded in strengthening it, the Islamist movement's leader Ismail Haniya said Sunday.

"Hamas is deep-rooted like Palestine's mountains, and our people are stronger under the siege and Hamas is more popular after the siege," he told over 150,000 people in Gaza City at a rally to mark the 21st anniversary of Hamas' founding.

"We will go to brothers in the 1948 territories (Israel) instead of letting them come to us," he added, in reference to a comment by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni Thursday that the future of Israel's Arab citizens lay in a future Palestinian state.

Haniya, whom President Mahmoud Abbas sacked as premier after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June last year, said US President- elect Barack Obama and Israel would not be able to defeat the Palestinians.

"You will not win and will not defeat this great people," he declared, and said that outgoing US President George W Bush "is falling while Hamas castles are not."

The Hamas leader did not specifically say whether Hamas would renew a failing ceasefire with Israel, which is due to expire on Friday.

However, he noted that Gaza's militant factions have come to a negative conclusion regarding the truce, because Israel's siege of the Gaza Strip "remained in place, the aggression continued," and the ceasefire was not extended to include the West Bank as well, as Hamas had demanded.

Hamas had wanted the six-month ceasefire, which came into effect on June 19, to lead to a lifting of Israel's tight blockade of the Strip, but Israeli officials said the amount of aid allowed into the enclave would depend on whether the militias adhered strictly to the truce. Israel shut the Gaza crossings after each rocket attack during the truce.

Despite the sporadic rocket attacks, the ceasefire largely held, but began falling apart early last month after Israel killed five militants in a raid to destroy a tunnel it said was being dug under the border to facilitate the abduction of Israeli soldiers.

The militants responded by renewing the rocket barrages, leading to Israeli airstrikes against rocket launching teams.

Sunday's also featured a Hamas activist dressed in an Israeli army uniform to represent Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized by militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006 and is still held in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking in Hebrew, the fake Shalit begged to be allowed to be returned home.

Egyptian-mediated talks to free the captive soldier have so far come to naught, with Israel refusing to free the 1,000 prisoners Hamas is demanding in return.

Preparations for the rally began in the morning hours, when Gaza mosques began calling on supporters to head for the Katiba Square in south-western Gaza City.

Hamas also sent buses to the mosques and deployed security men on every corner.

Hamas was founded in December 1987. Its charter calls for an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine. The movement, which offers social services in addition to an active military wing which has carried out thousands of attacks, has grown in popularity to the point where it won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.

However, Hamas' refusal to modify its charter to recognise Israel, renounce violence, and honour past Israeli-Palestinian agreements, saw Western countries institute a diplomatic boycott of the movement.

In June 2007, Hamas gunmen routed forces loyal to President Abbas and his secular Fatah movement to seize control of the Gaza Strip's security installations.

The two movements are still at loggerheads, despite failed attempts to reconcile them. Their latest squabble concerned whether Abbas can extend his term as president, which he hopes to do, despite the fact that legally it expires early next year.

Haniya declared Sunday that Hamas will not recognize Abbas as president after his term ends on January 9, saying that there was "no legitimacy for extending the president's term."

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