Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said Monday his movement is committed to efforts to secure a truce with Israel, but insisted the Jewish state must lift its six-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.
"We are committed to a ceasefire, but Israel must stop its aggression," Meshaal said. “We don't want an escalation, because Hamas and all resistance factions are courageous but they are also rational," he added.
“The morale in Gaza is very high,” the Islamist leader boasted.
Nearly 100 people have been killed in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip since Israel began a massive air campaign aimed at halting rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave on Wednesday.
The Hamas chief, who was in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials who are trying to broker a ceasefire, said Israel had sought a truce.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Netanyahu called the U.S., Europe and Egypt asking for a truce," Meshaal told a news conference.
“The limited amount of weapons in Gaza has confused Netanyahu and his army,” he added.
"We are not against a calming, but we want our demands... to end the thuggery, to end the aggression and to lift the blockade," said the Hamas chief.
Meshaal said his Islamist movement would reject any Israeli preconditions for a ceasefire because "they started the aggression".
“The ferocious war must be stopped by the party that started it and on our conditions. This is the stance of the resistance and all people in Gaza,” he noted.
“You can bet on this resistance on the ground and we achieved balance in this war within 48 hours,” Meshaal reassured.
He pointed out that Netanyahu knows that a ground operation “would not be a stroll in the park and that it might make him lose the elections.”
During his visit to Cairo, Meshaal has met with Egypt's intelligence services, Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
On Saturday, he said the Islamist group was reluctant to agree a ceasefire without guarantees Israel will honor it.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian official in Cairo said there were "encouraging signs" regarding a truce.
"We've received encouraging signals that it might be possible to stop the fighting and the bloodshed," the official said, before Meshaal's news conference.
"I hope, that maybe by the end of the day, we receive a final signal of what may be achieved to stop hostilities," he said.
"Both sides are saying a ceasefire is important and that there should be guarantees, but these guarantees are different," the official said.
Hamas' last sustained conflict with Israel in December 2008-January 2009 ended with an Egyptian mediated truce that was meant to guarantee a loosening of Israel's blockade of Gaza.
Meshaal warned that the Israelis “would be committing a folly if they waged a ground invasion.”
Later on Monday, the Israeli cabinet met to discuss an Egyptian plan for ending the conflict, a senior government official said.
The official refused to identify the points of Egypt's proposal, which emerged following a full day of indirect negotiations in Cairo on Sunday between Israeli officials and Palestinian representatives.
Israeli public radio, however, said Israel wanted to see a 24- to 48-hour truce take effect that could then be used to negotiate the finer details of the full ceasefire agreement.
The radio report also noted that most army attacks on Gaza had halted some two to three hours before the start of the cabinet meeting.
There was no immediate indication on whether a firm decision on Egypt's proposal would emerge from Monday's meeting.
The government's decision to address a possible truce coincides with a new round of intensive diplomacy with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon in the region for meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian officials in the coming days.
Israel had earlier threatened to expand its offensive should Hamas fail to rein in the hail of rockets fired at Israel over the past six days.
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