Hamas: We will not offer Schalit for free

Mahmoud Zahar says talks over soldier's release to begin only after Israel agrees to hudna proposal.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders warned Monday that they would continue the "resistance" if Israel rejected the Egyptian initiative for a truce. Hamas, meanwhile, said the negotiations over the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit would begin only after Israel agrees to the truce proposal. "If Israel does not want a hudna [temporary truce] now, they can forget about Schalit for many years to come," a senior Hamas official in Gaza City said. "Our position is that there should first be a hudna before we start talking about the soldier. We're not going to make any progress on the case of the soldier as long as Israel is continuing its attacks on the Gaza Strip." Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar echoed this opinion Tuesday saying that the group would not "offer Schalit for free" and his release is not related to truce talks. The official said the next 48 hours would determine "whether we are headed toward a cease-fire or an all-out explosion not only in the Gaza Strip, but probably in the entire region." Egyptian General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman is expected to brief the leaders of the two organizations Tuesday on the outcome of his talks in Jerusalem with Israeli officials. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said Israel was "inclined" to accept the initiative. "We believe the Israeli leaders will accept the initiative," he said. "But they won't announce their position in public." He claimed that Israel does not want to create the impression that it has been defeated by the "strong will" of the Palestinians. "That's why we expect Israel to drag its feet regarding the implementation of the terms of the truce, especially with regards to the reopening of the Rafah border crossing and halting its aggression against the Palestinians," Zahar added. He said Hamas was waiting to hear from Suleiman about the results of his visit to Jerusalem before it makes its final decision regarding the truce initiative. "We hope the voice of reason will prevail in Israel," he said. "We hope they will lift the siege [on the Gaza Strip] and stop their aggression." Zahar said Israel was now facing an opportunity of tahdiyah [period of calm]. "If they accept it, that would be a positive move," he added. "But if they turn it down, they should expect our people to pursue the struggle and resistance until we achieve our goals." The Hamas leader said his organization expects Egypt to reopen the Rafah border unilaterally once Israel rejects the truce initiative. He pointed out that as far as Hamas and the Palestinians are concerned, the blockade on the Gaza Strip has been a complete failure. "Even [former US President] Jimmy Carter has condemned the siege," he said. "The Palestinians are not beggars and we don't seek humanitarian aid from anyone. Nor are we standing in line in front of the UNRWA offices to receive bread." Islamic Jihad leader Muhammed al-Hindi also threatened that his group would continue to fight if Israel rejected the Egyptian plan. "There's more than one indication that Israel is headed toward accepting the initiative," he said. "In any case, the Palestinians maintain the right to self-defense. "We aren't begging for a cease-fire and we will never surrender to anyone."