First Published: 2006-02-13

Hamas will end armed struggle if Israel quits occupied territories

Meshaal says his Palestinian Islamist group does not feel bound by roadmap since no one lese is abiding by it.


Middle East Online

By Eric Helque - MOSCOW

We are open to dialogue with the whole world: Meshaal

Hamas will end its armed struggle against Israel if the Jewish state withdraws from all occupied Palestinian territories, the radical Islamist group's leader told a Russian daily in comments published Monday.

"If Israel recognizes our rights and pledges to withdraw from all occupied lands, Hamas, and the Palestinian people together with it, will decide to halt armed resistance," the radical Islamist group's supremo Khaled Meshaal said in an interview with the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

In earlier statements Meshaal had only said that Hamas could agree to a "long-term truce" with Israel if it were willing to return to the 1967 borders and recognise the rights of Palestinians to self-determination.

However, Meshaal added in his latest comments that Hamas did not feel bound by the international Middle East roadmap for peace since, in his view, no one else was abiding by it.

"Since no one is abiding by the dispositions of the roadmap, the Palestinians also feel it is not expedient to adhere to it," said Meshaal, who lives in the Syrian capital Damascus.

He said Hamas was prepared to talk with everybody, including the United States. "We are open to dialogue with the whole world. Hamas has set no limitations whatsoever on contacts with the United States," Meshaal said.

Hamas won a surprise landslide victory in January's parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority but has since come under international pressure to renounce violence against Israel.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin extended a controversial invitation to Hamas to visit Moscow for talks on the future of the Middle East peace process, an idea accepted with relish by the Islamists who are poised to form the next Palestinian government.

It was a great honor for Hamas to have been invited to Moscow by Putin, Meshaal said.

"The establishment of good relations with Moscow is a treasured chance for Hamas to advance the peace process," he said. "That is why we will do our outmost to maintain and develop cooperation with the Russian Federation."

Moscow will urge Hamas to recognise Israel when members of the militant Islamist group visit there for talks with Putin, Russia's special envoy to the Middle East, Alexander Kalugin said Sunday, following talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

Kalugin earlier said that the Hamas delegation could travel to Moscow before the end of February.

Hamas, whose charter openly calls for the destruction of Israel, has been behind the majority of anti-Israeli attacks over the last five years.

While the movement is classified as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, it does not feature on any such Russian blacklist.

The Middle East quartet, made up of diplomats from the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, earlier made clear that relations with Hamas were possible only if the organisation affirmed Israel's right to exist and renounced violence.


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