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Hamas rejects recognition of Israel despite pressure

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, March 4 (Reuters) Islamist militant Hamas, which is forming a Palestinian Government, will not recognise Israel despite pressure from Russia to do so during talks in Moscow, a senior leader of the group said today.

The Moscow visit is the first by Hamas leaders to a major foreign power since it won Palestinian parliamentary elections on January. 25.

Hamas is hoping to gain a measure of international standing from the three days of talks, opposed by Israel and the United States, which both brand the group a terrorist organisation. The Hamas charter calls for the Jewish state's destruction.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas's deputy political leader, told Reuters in an interview that recognising Israel would negate all Palestinian rights.

''It means a negation of the Palestinian people and their rights and their property, of Jerusalem and the holy sites, as well as negation of their right of return. Therefore the recognition of Israel is not on the agenda,'' Abu Marzouk said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, yesterday told a Hamas delegation during a first day of talks it must recognise Israel's right to exist and abide by interim peace deals.

That echoes demands made by the Quartet of W est Asia mediators, which besides Russia includes the United Nations, the United States and the European Union.

DRAW A MAP Abu Marzouk, who is part of the Hamas delegation in Moscow, blasted previous Palestinian accords with Israel and said they did not define the Jewish state's borders.

''I gave the Russian officials a white sheet and I asked them to draw me a map of the Israel they want me to recognise and nobody was able to draw the map,'' he said.

''Therefore how would you want me to recognise something that is so dangerous to the future of the Palestinian people.'' Hamas is in the middle of forming a Government and expects to name a cabinet within weeks.

Israel says it will not negotiate with a Government led by Hamas, which has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000. Hamas has said talks with Israel would be a waste of time.

Abu Marzouk said the Moscow visit had achieved important results for Hamas, including ''breaking the wall of siege'' imposed by the United States and Europe since its election win.

''While this collapse in the siege was done in public, there are several countries of the European Union that are secretly holding contacts with Hamas in one way of another,'' he said without elaborating.

Even before its first meetings yesterday with senior Russian officials in Moscow, Hamas dimmed hopes of a breakthrough by saying it was firm in its refusal to recognise Israel.

Russia, yesterday said, Hamas had also said it was prepared to continue abiding by a year-old ceasefire it has largely stuck to if Israel did not use force. Israel says it requires military action to prevent attacks by militants.

Although the Hamas visit was a setback for US-Israeli efforts to isolate the Islamic militants, Russia's mediation was seen by some in the West as a chance to push the group towards a more moderate stance.

REUTERS PG PM1854

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