Sat, Jan 21, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Hamas hires spin doctor to improve image abroad

THE GUARDIAN , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Hamas is paying a spin doctor US$180,000 to persuade Europeans and Americans that it is not a group of religious fanatics who relish suicide bombings and hate Jews.

The organization, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, has hired a media consultant, Nashat Aqtash, to improve its image at home and abroad because it expects to emerge from next week's Palestinian general elections as a major political force, and wants recognition and acceptance by the US and EU.

"Hamas has an image problem. The Israelis were able to create a very bad image of the Palestinians in general and particularly Muslims and Hamas. My contract is to project the right image," said Aqtash, who also teaches media at Birzeit University in Ramallah.

"We don't need the international community to accept Hamas ideology, we need it to accept the facts on the ground. We are not killing people because we love to kill. People view Hamas as loving sending people to die. We don't love death, we like life," he said.

Aqtash, who describes himself as opposed to violence and "believing in the Gandhi route," has advised Hamas leaders to change their image by explaining that they do not hate Israelis because they are Jews. And he is attempting to persuade influential foreigners that Hamas is essentially a peaceful organization that was forced to fight, but is now committed to pressing its cause through politics, not violence.

"Hamas does not believe in terrorism or killing civilians. But [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon pressed buttons to make people angry. Sometimes we are innocent enough to react in a way that the Israelis use the reaction against us," he said.

Next week Aqtash says he will address former US president Jimmy Carter, former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt and other prominent foreigners monitoring the election.

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