File- AP Photo/Hatem Moussa
We Will Not Lay Down Our Arms: Hamas Chief

Thousands of militants paraded in the besieged Gaza Strip today, defiantly saying they would rearm as the prospects of a final deal on a long-term Israel-Hamas truce looked shaky.

Calm was restored to the coastal enclave in a Tuesday ceasefire, and Gazans were gradually starting to rebuild their lives after a bloody and destructive 50-day war, the deadliest for years.

But the chances of long-term peace hung in the balance after Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal yesterday ruled out Israeli demands to disarm, and as Israel said it would not budge on key Hamas demands in further negotiations.

Thousands of Islamic Jihad fighters paraded through Gaza City in a show of force, marching with light weapons and holding aloft rockets similar to those fired at Israel during the conflict.

The spokesman for Islamic Jihad's armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, delivered a speech praising backers Iran and allies Hezbollah and declaring that the group would "redouble efforts" to rearm.

Israel "cannot win in Gaza", said the spokesman known as Abu Hamza.

"We have not stopped making weapons, even during the battle, and we will redouble our efforts... To prepare for the next stage, which we hope will be the battle for freedom."

His words echoed those of the exiled leader of Hamas, the main power in Gaza.

"The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that they be on the agenda" of future talks with Israel, Meshaal had told reporters yesterday in Doha.

A top Iranian military official vowed to help Palestinian militants rearm.

"Be assured that the Iranian people and the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps will help you more than in the past in all defence and social domains," said Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari, in quotes posted on the organisation's official website.

Israel has consistently linked the reconstruction of the Gaza enclave to its demilitarisation.

"It has become abundantly clear that unless Hamas is disarmed and its tools of control removed, there can be no peace and security for either Israelis or Palestinians," Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned on his ministry's website.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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