Tue, Feb 14, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Hamas demands Israel withdrawal

AFP , MOSCOW

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 yesterday.

"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 recognize 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 US.

"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 last month'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," he said.

Moscow will urge Hamas to recognize 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 on Sunday, following talks with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas.

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

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 organization by the EU and the US, it does not feature on any such Russian blacklist.

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