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Hamas Leader: Militant Group is Part of Solution | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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DAMASCUS, Syria, (AP) – Hamas’ top political leader, in a message to the Obama administration, said the militant group is determined to be part of a solution to the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel.

The group’s exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, said in an interview with The New York Times published Tuesday, that Hamas has halted its rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on communities in southern Israel and is willing to support a two-state solution.

Hamas, whose two-decade-old founding charter calls for Israel’s destruction, has given mixed signals on many issues in the conflict, including whether it would be willing to accept a Palestinian state within only the territory Israel seized in the 1967 war — Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The in-depth interview with Mashaal, which the Times said was conducted in five hours spread over two days at his home in the Syrian capital, offered a clearer signal of the group’s direction, setting it down in print in a rare interview with a U.S. news organization.

“I promise the American administration and the international community that we will be part of the solution, period,” the paper quoted Mashaal as saying.

The 53-year-old Hamas leader, one of the group’s founding members, said, however, that he would not recognize Israel — a key requirement of the U.S. and other nations. Washington and its allies in Europe insist that the group first recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous Palestinian peace agreements with the Jewish state.

“There is only one enemy in the region, and that is Israel,” Mashaal said.

He also said he would not revoke the charter calling for Israel’s destruction but said that outsiders should ignore it, noting that it is 20 years old and adding that Hamas is “shaped by our experiences.”

Speaking about President Barack Obama, Mashaal said, “His language is different and positive.”

Mashaal, who just days ago was re-elected to a four-year term as the group’s political chief, explained why he agreed to the interview, saying, “To understand Hamas is to listen to its vision directly. Hamas is delighted when people want to hear from its leaders directly, not about the movement through others.”

The Obama administration has reached out to U.S. adversaries Syria and Iran, which were isolated by former President George W. Bush, but has continued to refuse any dealings with the Iranian-backed Hamas.

Mashaal stuck by the group’s rejection of the demands that it recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace deals, arguing that the PLO’s recognition of Israel under the leadership of the late Yasser Arafat failed to end the occupation of lands that Palestinians want for a future state.

The demand for recognition, he said, is “just a pretext by the United States and Israel to escape dealing with the real issue and to throw the ball into the Arab and Palestinian court.”

However, he stated that Hamas backed a two-state solution along the outlines of that sought by the Palestinian Authority and the 23-member Arab League.

“We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce,” he said, defining long-term as 10 years. “This includes east Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.”

He said Hamas was also eager to reach a cease-fire with Israel, something the two sides have failed to achieve in indirect talks under Egyptian mediation since Israel’s devastating three-week offensive against Hamas leaders in Gaza in December and January.

He also repeated Hamas’ aim of reaching a deal that would involve the release of captured Israeli soldier Sgt. Gilad Schalit — held since June 2006 — in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Speaking about Iran’s support for Hamas, Mashaal said the group was not beholden to the Islamic Republic. “Iran’s support to us is not conditioned. No one controls or affects our policies,” he said.

Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was to visit Syria on Tuesday.