|Hamas views the Fatah government in the West Bank as illegitimate [GALLO/GETTY]|
Khaled Meshaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas, has said the group rejected a European offer for an indirect meeting with Israel to discuss an end to the conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking at a rally in Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Friday to mark Hamas' 20th anniversary, Meshaal said that "some Europeans have offered us to meet indirectly with [the] Israelis to discuss a truce and we told them no and one thousands nos".
He did not say what European country made the offer.
Meshaal also said he was ready to talk "unconditionally" with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.
He said: "We are ready for an unconditional dialogue in which all issues will be discussed, including that of bringing forward elections.
"I say to the leaders of Fatah that our differences are political."
On Monday, Abbas said he wanted to "open a new page" with Hamas if it gave up control of the Gaza Strip, which it took last year from forces loyal to Abbas.
Olmert admits settlements in the West Bank
breached peace drives in the region [GALLO/GETTY]
The following day, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, said the movement welcomed dialogue, but rejected the conditions Abbas had set for talks.
Meshaal said: "No Arab country has asked Hamas to give up on the current situation in Gaza," adding the government of Salam Fayyad, the prime minister, should "go".
"Our people must stop this government from selling off Palestinian interests."
Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, called continued Israeli construction in West Bank settlements a breach of Israel's obligations under a peace plan revived in the US city of Annapolis last year.
Olmert's remarks, which appeared in an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper on Friday, came days before George Bush, the US president, arrives in the region.
Olmert acknowledged that Israel was not honouring its commitments.
He said: "There is a certain contradiction in this between what we are actually seeing and what we ourselves promised."
"Obligations are not only to be demanded of others, but they must also be honored by ourselves. So there is a certain problem here."
Construction plans announced after the Annapolis conference have angered the Palestinians and disrupted fledgling peace talks, renewed after seven years of violence.