Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Islamist militant group Hamas, has said there can be no ceasefire to ease the conflict in Gaza without an end to Israel’s blockade.
Meshaal said Hamas would continue to reject a lasting ceasefire until its conditions were met. It follows further Israeli air strikes and ground operations in Gaza, as Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel, BBC reported.
In addition to lifting the eight-year economic blockade, Mr Meshaal’s list of demands also included the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
“We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices,” Khaled Meshaal told reporters at a news conference in Qatar. But, he added, the group would not “close the door” to a humanitarian truce, saying: “We need the calm for a few hours to evacuate the wounded and assist in [aid] relief.”
Mr Meshaal appealed to the international community to help bring medicine, fuel and other supplies into Gaza.
Israel imposed restrictions on the Gaza Strip in 2006 after Hamas abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The measures were tightened by Israel and Egypt in 2007 after Hamas ousted rival Fatah and forcibly took control in Gaza after winning elections the year before.
Hamas and Fatah announced a reconciliation deal in April, but the move was condemned by Israel which regards Hamas as a terrorist group.
Khaled Meshaal’s comments come amid fierce fighting in Gaza on Wednesday, with eyewitness reports of around 5,000 Palestinians fleeing the village of Khuzaa, in the south, following a ground incursion by Israeli troops.
Palestinian medical sources say the death toll rose to more than 690 on Wednesday, which includes a Palestinian man shot dead by Israeli forces in pre-dawn clashes in the West Bank.
Israel said three of its soldiers were killed on Wednesday during efforts to destroy the network of Palestinian militant tunnels.
Israeli police say a foreign worker was killed when a rocket fired from Gaza landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday.
Palestinian officials say eight militants were killed in clashes with Israeli troops on the outskirts of Khan Younis.
Separately on Wednesday, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voted in favour of an official investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza.
The move was condemned by the media office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which described it as “travesty”.
Israel’s Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, earlier said her country was acting according to international law.
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond : “Today’s UN Human Rights Council resolution will not help achieve a lasting ceasefire. It is fundamentally unbalanced and will complicate the process by introducing unnecessary new mechanisms.”
Meanwhile US Secretary of State John Kerry has been meeting both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to help negotiate a truce.
Speaking after meeting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is also in the region, Mr Kerry said: “We have certainly made some steps forward, but there is still work to be done.”
Israel launched its military offensive on 8 July with the declared objective of stopping rocket fire from Gaza. At least 649 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers, plus three civilians in Israel, have been killed in the past 15 days of fighting, officials say.
Earlier, the UN’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, condemned Israel’s military actions in Gaza. She also condemned Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks” on Israel.
There have been hundreds of rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli air strikes on Gaza since the Israeli offensive began.
The US Federal Aviation Authority has now lifted a ban on US airlines flying into Tel Aviv, which had come into force on Tuesday.