Hamas rejects Gaza truce unless blockade lifted

Hamas Wednesday rejected a ceasefire to end 16 days of deadly fighting with Israel unless the blockade on the Gaza Strip is lifted, its chief Khaled Meshaal said in Doha.

"We reject today... and will reject in the future" a ceasefire before negotiations on Hamas's demands, which include lifting years of blockade against the Palestinian enclave, Meshaal told reporters.

Lifting the eight-year blockade is a main demand of Hamas which also wants the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and Israel to free prisoners.

As international calls for an end to the fighting in Gaza mount, Meshaal insisted that the Islamist Hamas "welcomes all efforts to end the aggression" and "does not object" to mediation by any party, including Egypt.

"We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices," he said.

Egypt, whose President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has sought to isolate the militant Palestinian movement in the neighbouring Gaza, had tried to broker truce between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas had rejected the ceasefire proposal which it said was favourable to Israel.

It argues that Egypt's proposal, which is backed by the United States, United Nations and Arab League, would allow Israel to dictate if and when to ease its blockade on Gaza.

"Let us agree on achieving our demands and we will then agree on the zero-hour for a ceasefire," Meshaal said.

He appealed to the international community and NGOs to "come to the aid of Gaza and not wait until after the war ends."

"I call today for opening border crossings to allow the entry of aid convoys" to Gaza Strip which needs "fuel, food and electricity," he said.

"We are more concerned (than any other party) about a humanitarian truce, like last Thursday... for evacuating casualties and assisting the population," he said.

"We are not closing the door to a humanitarian truce... that would not manuever around demands of the resistance," he added.

Meshaal insisted that his movement wants the "aggression to stop tomorrow, today, or even this minute. But lift the blockade with guarantees and not as a promise for future negotiations," he said, adding that "we will not shut the door in the face of any humanitarian ceasefire backed by a real aid programme."

Charity Oxfam said Wednesday that thousands of Palestinians have fled their homes but have nowhere safe to shelter from Israeli airstrikes and warned that supplies of water and food are dangerously low.

The 16-day conflict has so far killed 695 Gazans, 34 Israelis and a Thai worker.

"We do not want a war and we do not want it to continue, but we will not bow in front of it," said Meshaal.

"Nobody could disarm the resistance," he said, setting two conditions to demilitarise Gaza, an Israeli demand: "The end of occupation and the disarmament of Israel."