Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday rejected Hamas' offer of a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, saying the government would not hold talks with the Islamist group until it recognizes Israel.

Olmert's comments came as Palestinians in Gaza fired three Qassam rockets at the western Negev, causing no damage or injuries.

"The State of Israel has no interest in negotiating with entities that do not recognize the Quartet demands," Olmert said during the weekly cabinet meeting.

The Quartet of Middle East mediators - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia - have demanded that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"Whoever accepts the Quartet principles will, in principle, be a partner for negotiations," Olmert said. "Whoever isn't willing to do so, to our regret, cannot be a partner for dialogue with us. This policy will not change."

Barak hints at hudna

Defense Minister Ehud Barak hinted at the possibility of a cease-fire with Hamas if the rocket attacks end.

"If they stop firing, we won't be opposed to a calm," Barak told the cabinet yesterday. "Hamas' consideration of a hudna [truce] stems from our effective operations and targeted killings."

A senior security official made similar comments, saying that Israel was not currently prepared to change its policy in Gaza but that "as soon as Hamas brings about a cessation of Qassam rocket fire from the Strip, we will consider our steps and will certainly act differently." The official said Hamas has the power to bring the rocket attacks to an end.

"There's no doubt that Hamas is capable of forcing a let-up on Islamic Jihad and the other small factions in the Strip," he said. "It won't be a 100-percent decrease, but even 98 percent would be a big change."

Barak, however, drew a line between a truce and more extended political talks, saying, "There is no basis for political negotiations with Hamas if we want a continuation of Annapolis and a [Palestinian] state in the foreseeable future."

Hamas officials have made conflicting statements in recent days on the group's willingness to accept a cease-fire, saying yesterday that Israel must first stop "all forms of aggression."

"If the occupation commits itself to stopping all forms of aggression against our people, only then the factions may discuss this issue," Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said. "But until then, there is no discussion among the factions over a calm."

Israeli security officials said Hamas officials' statements about the need for quiet in Gaza show the effectiveness of Israeli economic and military pressure on the Strip.