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28 Feb, 2007 01:30

Hamas objectives remain unchanged: Khaled Mashaal

Hamas objectives remain unchanged: Khaled Mashaal

Hamas top leader Khaled Mashaal thanked Russia for its support of the Palestinian national unity government agreed on in Mecca. However he announced no crucial changes in the faction’s stance towards Israel.

Speaking to the Russian media he said the objectives of Hamas remain unchanged: an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, freedom for all Palestinian inmates in Israel, and the return of all Palestinian refugees to their homes. Until then, he said, Hamas will not recognise Israel.

“Israel must stop the occupation of Palestinian territories and the suffering of our people. When Israel does this, that Palestinian Autonomy will determine its stance. Today the problem is in Israel. Yassir Arafat signed several deals and even made concessions but the result was that Israel poisoned Arafat to death. Mahmoud Abbas signed the agreement on recognising Israel, but Israel hasn't done anything to help Abbas. So the problem here is again in Israel,” Khaled Mashaal claimed.

Mr. Mashaal also called on Israel to cease occupation of the Palestinian territories, urged the U.S. to drop its support of Israel and said the EU should lift the financial embargo.

Moscow believes international isolation of Hamas is counterproductive and hopes involving it in the political process will soften its stance on Israel. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the meeting with Hamas top leader was fruitful.

“The meeting has re-affirmed the legitimacy and justification of Russia's stance that we outlined a year ago, when Hamas won the election. It is necessary to work with Hamas to influence their position and to bring it closer to the position of the Arab League countries approved by the UN Security Council. The Mecca accords are a significant step towards the principles determined by the Middle East Quartet,” the minister said.

Sergey Lavrov said Russia would work on getting the crippling international sanctions against the Palestinian  Administration removed.

But not all the parties of the Middle East conflict believe talking to Hamas is the right thing to do. Israel’s right-wing Deputy Prime Minister, Avigdor Liberman, whose visit to Moscow coincided with that of Khaled Mashaal, says Tel Aviv is disappointed with Russia’s dialogue with the Palestinian faction.

“The new Palestinian cabinet is not a national unity government, it is a Hamas government. The Quartet demands any Palestinian cabinet recognise Israel’s right for existence, give up terrorism and abide by prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Neither the Mecca accords nor the new cabinet meet these demands. And recognising this government would only encourage terror and extremism,” the Israeli official claimed.

Yet, on his tour in Russia Khaled Mashaal preferred to speak about the new government’s peace dialogue than about prospects of an armed struggle with Israel.

Using Moscow as an international arena Hamas addressed the U.S., the EU and Israel. Its message was somewhat softer than usual – either because as a part of the unity government it has to be more flexible, or because it wants to be polite with its Russian hosts who try to convince it to drop the old habits.

But the success of the Russian diplomacy is uncertain. Khaled Mashaal has not changed a single crucial position on Israel.