CAIRO, Egypt – A leader of the terrorist Hamas group called recent rockets attacks on Israel "self defense," while the camp of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday urged the preservation of a 5-month-old truce with the Israelis.
The comments came during a second day of meetings between exiled Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal and Abbas in the Cairo. The talks were the first since their factions formed a Palestinian coalition government in March.
The meetings followed an escalation in Palestinian-Israeli tensions, with a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas over the past week that threatened the cease-fire.
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"It's the Palestinians' right to defend themselves," Mashaal said, adding the attacks came in revenge for the killings of nine Hamas supporters by Israel. "These are violations that needed a retaliation."
But Abbas' aide Nabil Abu Rudeina, who was also in Cairo, said everyone should abide by the truce because it is for "the sake of the Palestinian people."
Mashaal also blamed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for allegedly hindering Egyptian mediations to secure the release of the abducted Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Shalit was seized last June by Hamas-affiliated militants from an Israeli military camp on the border with the Gaza Strip.
The kidnapping provoked an Israeli military offensive that killed more than 200 Palestinians. Hamas has said Shalit would be released only in return for Palestinians jailed in Israeli prisons.
Egypt has tried to negotiate Shalit's release for months and has blamed Hamas for failing to conclude the deal. Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who visited Cairo in October, said his government had accepted Egypt's conditions for a prisoner swap and blamed Mashaal for blocking the release.
But Mashaal said the Israeli premier is "personally behind the delay in the release of the Israeli soldier."
"There were big hopes, but Olmert is responsible for everything," he said without elaborating.
Abu Rudeina told The Associated Press that Abbas urged Hamas to "speed up the prisoners' swap."
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