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Palestinian officials said yesterday that Hamas has informed Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that it is willing to accept a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip on the condition that Israel halt its attacks. Hamas, meanwhile, is threatening to kill Gilad Shalit, the Israeli Defense Forces soldier it abducted last year, unless Israel complies.

The sources noted that Hamas would hold its fire only if it received proof from Israel that the IDF will bring its current strikes to a complete halt. In addition, the sources said Hamas officials were demanding that Israel include the West Bank in the cease-fire.

In addition to meeting delegates from the rival faction of Hamas, Abbas also met with representatives of four other Palestinian militant groups, including the Islamic Jihad. He has proposed a one-month cease-fire in Gaza, to be extended to the West Bank later on.

In contrast with these reports, Hamas' Gaza spokesman, Fawzi Barhum, told Haaretz yesterday that the organization's stance has not changed: "Other militant factions are in agreement with us that we must keep opposing Israel for as long as it continues to subject the Palestinian people to its aggression."

Barhum added that, "Hamas considered every means of retaliation as legitimate, as any sort of future cease-fire must be mutual and inclusive of the West Bank."

Another Hamas spokesman, Ayman Taha, said that ongoing Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip mean that Palestinians and the Hamas militants "will have no choice but to defend our people. We will not surrender and we will not raise the white flag."

Meanwhile, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, also vowed to continue firing Qassam rockets into nearby Israeli towns unless Israeli attacks on Gaza come to a halt.

Abu Obaida, Iz al-Din al-Qassam's spokesman, yesterday reiterated his group's willingness to take any action necessary in response to continued Israeli air strikes against Hamas' locales and operatives in the Strip. Abu Obaida went on to threaten to harm Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier kidnapped last June, if Israel kills Hamas leaders. "Israel has to forget about Shalit if Hamas' leaders are assassinated," he said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called the Israeli actions in Gaza "an indication of Israel's moral bankruptcy and failed politics." He added that the Israeli air strikes on Hamas, in particular, were intended to undermine certain elements in the Palestinian political landscape, for the purpose of installing other Palestinians who do not support Hamas.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, explained yesterday that the Qassam rocket attacks from Gaza were "one of the means which the movement was using to resist the occupation by the Jewish state." Abu Marzouk said the Islamist group would send a delegation to Cairo in the next few days to speak with the Egyptians, but added that there would be no meeting with Fatah representatives to discuss the security situation in the PA.

Abu Marzouk also promised a truce if Israel halted its reprisals, saying "the Palestinian factions then will be ready to stop the firing of rockets on (Israel) and Zionist military positions."

According to Palestinian sources, Israel's aerial offensive on Gaza over the past 10 days has claimed the lives of 48 Palestinians, including Hamas operatives and seven children, and has wounded about 200 others.