The Palestinian group Hamas will not renew a truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip that expires later this month, said a statement issued by the group in the Syrian capital on Sunday.
"There will be no renewal of the calm after it expires," the statement quoted Khaled Meshaal, the Islamist group's exiled leader, as telling a Hamas television station.
A senior defense official said earlier that Israel is willing to renew a six-month old ceasefire deal with Hamas in and around the Gaza Strip if militants halt all attacks against the Jewish state.
Willing to continue
Top defense ministry official Amos Gilad was due in Cairo on Sunday for talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and senior officials to discuss the renewal of the Egyptian-brokered deal which is set to expire on December 19, the official told AFP.
"If Hamas is ready to maintain the calm and return to the situation as it was three weeks ago, Israel will be willing to continue the truce," he said.
The ceasefire agreement has been rattled since November 4 by a string of tit-for-tat attacks between the Israeli army and militants, who fired dozens of rockets against southern Israel.
In response, Israel regularly sealed off all its crossings with the Islamists-ruled territory, raising international fears of a humanitarian crisis in the impoverished territory.
But recent days have seen a return to calm and the reopening of the crossings.
Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters massed in Gaza City on Sunday to mark the 21st anniversary of the creation of the Islamist movement which seized control of the Gaza Strip last year.
In an address to the crowds, Ismail Haniya, the head of the Hamas administration in Gaza, boasted that U.S. President George W. Bush's administration had failed to defeat his movement, which had only grown stronger.
"Bush declared war on the Palestinian people. He provided money and arms to the seditionists to wage a war against legality," Haniya said, referring to the deadly street fighting with loyalists of Western-backed president Mahmud Abbas that preceded Hamas's takeover of Gaza.
"Bush failed, we have not been overthrown," he said. And despite Israel's blockade of the territory, "Hamas is stronger and will remain stronger because it draws its strength from God."
Busloads of demonstrators flooded into Gaza City from across the densely populated coastal strip to hear Haniya's speech, waving the green flags of the Islamic Resistance Movement.
The rally, which Hamas television said drew hundreds of thousands of people, was intended as a show of strength in the Islamists' standoff with Abbas's West Bank-based administration.
The United States handed the U.N. Security Council a draft resolution on Saturday that hails progress made in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but calls for an "intensification" of efforts to secure a deal.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad said the 15-nation council would vote on the resolution on Tuesday at a meeting which U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and other foreign ministers are expected to attend.
If approved, it will be the Security Council's first resolution on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians since November 2003, when it endorsed the Middle East "road map" peace plan for eventual Palestinian statehood.
Khalilzad told reporters the resolution endorsed the goals of peace talks launched in November 2007 by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Bush administration had wanted an agreement on Palestinian statehood by the end of this year but all sides now say that will not happen. Bush leaves office on Jan. 20, when Barack Obama will become U.S. president.
Diplomats in New York say the highly unpopular Bush administration hopes this resolution will help draw attention to the good it has done for the Middle East and counter some of the criticism it has faced for its 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The text, expected to be revised before Tuesday's vote, mentions none of the specific complaints the Palestinians and Israelis have raised.
The Palestinians have said Israeli settlement building in Palestinian areas threatens to derail the peace process. U.N. diplomats said Arab delegations wanted settlements mentioned in the text but the Americans do not want to include details of specific disagreements.
Instead, the resolution urges both sides to "refrain from any steps that could undermine confidence or prejudice the outcome of the negotiations" and calls for "an intensification of diplomatic efforts" aimed at securing a "comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East."
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow backed the text and agreed that the change of U.S. and Israeli administrations should not slow the peace process.
French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, speaking on behalf of the French presidency of the European Union, said the draft text was a "very good basis to get an agreement."
Libya, a strong supporter of the Palestinians, is the only Arab state on the Security Council at the moment. It has repeatedly clashed with Washington on Palestinian issues.