Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Hamas backs `peace in stages' with Israel

AFP AND AP , WASHINGTON AND JERUSALEM

Hamas does not feel animosity against Jews per se and could establish "peace in stages" with Israel if the latter withdraws to its 1967 borders, its leader Ismail Haniyeh told a correspondent in an interview released yesterday.

Hamas, a radical Islamist faction that does not recognize Israel's right to exist and which has been responsible for scores of suicide attacks, is forming a Palestinian government following a landslide election win last month.

"If Israel withdraws to the `67 borders, then we will establish a peace in stages," Haniyeh said in a phone interview.

Clarifying what he meant, Haniyeh said: "Number one, we will establish a situation of stability and calm which will bring safety for our people -- what [Hamas founder] Sheikh [Ahmed] Yassin called a long-term hudna."

When asked if peace in stages meant "the ultimate obliteration of the Jewish people," Haniyeh said: "We do not have any feelings of animosity toward Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea."

"All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody," he said.

Haniyeh denied that Hamas' election victory was solely due to corruption within the former ruling Fatah party.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he will resign if peace talks with Israel remain stalled in the wake of last month's election victory by Hamas.

In an interview that was to be broadcast yesterday by Britain's ITV network, Abbas urged the international community to give Hamas -- classified as a terrorist group by Israel, the US and the EU -- a grace period.

"I think they are now responsible," a transcript of the interview quoted Abbas as saying.

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