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Hamas resists pressure to recognize Israel
Updated: 2006-02-04 09:29

Defying international pressure, militant Islamic group Hamas said on Friday it would never recognize Israel but might be willing to negotiate terms for a temporary truce with the Jewish state.

Khaled Meshaal, the top leader of Hamas which won last week's Palestinian parliamentary election by a landslide, made the offer to Israel ahead of negotiations between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the shape of the next government.

Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said he and other Hamas officials expected to meet Abbas in Gaza on Saturday to begin to "consult over the nature of the coming government" and to try to set a date for the first meeting of the Palestinian parliament.

Hamas resists pressure to recognize Israel
Israeli policemen watch as Palestinians pray on the street near Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem's Old city February 3, 2006. [AP]
The United States and European Union have demanded that Hamas renounce violence, disarm and change its charter calling for the destruction of the Jewish state or risk losing foreign aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

But Hamas leaders have stood firm.

"We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Zionist state that was established on our land," Meshaal, the Damascus-based head of the political and military wings of the militant Islamic group, wrote in a column titled "To whom it may concern," published in al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper.

Hamas leaders have said they might heed a truce with Israel as an interim measure that could include the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, but would not abandon a long-term goal to destroy Israel.

"If you (Israel) are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce then we will be ready to negotiate with you over the conditions of such a truce," Meshaal wrote.

Hamas officials say Meshaal is the group's supreme leader. There are other leaders who oversee political operations in Gaza and the West Bank but answer to Meshaal.

Brushing aside Meshaal's suggestion as "verbal gymnastics," Israeli officials demanded Hamas unequivocally recognize Israel's right to exist as a sovereign state and abandon terrorism.

"Anything short of that will simply maintain the current situation in which the absolute majority of the community of nations determine Hamas to be a terrorist organization, and as such, not a legitimate interlocutor for political negotiation," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

Haniyeh said Hamas's conditions for a long-term truce included an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank as well as its release of all Palestinian prisoners.


The United States has suspended the start of new projects in the Palestinian territories after Hamas's election victory, but some U.S. aid is expected to flow in the future regardless of whether Hamas leads the Palestinian Authority government.

Meshaal dismissed the international pressure, saying in his column: "Our message to the United States and Europe is the attempts you are exerting to make us abandon our principles and struggle will be wasted and will not achieve any results."

Israel on Wednesday froze the transfer of some $55 million in taxes, the main source of the Palestinian Authority's funding which it collected on the PA's behalf, as it studied the implications of Hamas's election victory.

The customs revenue is used to pay 140,000 government workers.

Political sources said interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet would discuss on Sunday whether to allow the payment to go through to the interim Palestinian government which is not yet run by Hamas.

Violence in the region continued on Friday when militant group Islamic Jihad fired rockets into southern Israel striking a house and wounding three people including a baby. Israel responded with artillery fire into the northern Gaza Strip.

Israeli aircraft struck Hizbollah positions in south Lebanon after the group fired rockets at northern Israel. One soldier was wounded at an army outpost in the disputed Shebaa Farms area on the border between the two countries, while a Lebanese woman was wounded in the air strikes.

In the West Bank, the army said its troops foiled a suicide bomb attack by capturing two Palestinians who attempted to smuggle suicide bomb belts through a military checkpoint.

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