December 23, 2007 / 9:50 AM / in 10 years

Olmert says "war" on militants in Gaza to continue

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday ruled out dialogue with Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip and vowed to press on with the army’s “war” against militants firing cross-border rockets into Israel.

<p>A Palestinian Hamas militant attends the funeral of Naim Al-Aroki in Gaza December 21, 2007. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem</p>

Olmert’s closest confidant said Israel’s strategic goal was to topple the Hamas government in the coastal territory through continued military and economic pressure.

“This war will continue,” Olmert told government ministers, referring to stepped up Israeli attacks that have killed over 20 Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in the past week.

Olmert appeared to play down prospects of a ceasefire deal with Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in June after routing forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The state of Israel has no interest in holding negotiations with those that refuse to accept the basic principles of the Quartet,” Olmert said referring to the demands set out by the Quartet of Middle East mediators.

“This applies to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and anyone else. He who accepts the Quartet principles is a partner in talks, but he who is not ready to accept them, he is no partner and our policy will not change,” Olmert said.

<p>Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem December 23, 2007. REUTERS/Jim Hollander/Pool</p>

Hamas has brushed aside demands by the Quartet, composed of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, that it recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace agreements.

Hamas did not rule out a future ceasefire if Israel first stopped attacks on the Gaza Strip.

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

Asked on Israel Radio whether Israel was seeking to “topple” Hamas, Vice Premier Haim Ramon said: “Yes.”

“We are fighting Hamas and are seeking to weaken its control of Gaza, and bring about the end of its rein there. Hamas should hand over control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority,” he said, referring to Abbas’s West Bank-based government.

Hamas leaders have offered a long-term truce with Israel in return for a viable Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The Islamist group continues to say it will not formally recognize Israel and its 1988 founding charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; writing by Adam Entous; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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