Hamas denies ready for two-state deal with Israel
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza, Apr 7 (Reuters) Top Hamas officials today denied reports that their new government was ready for a two-state solution with Israel or would present such a proposal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
''That is not correct. Where did you hear that?'' Prime Minister and senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in the town of Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. He appeared shocked when asked by reporters if it was true.
Any readiness to talk about a two-state solution would imply recognition of Israel, which the Islamic militant group is formally sworn to destroy.
Hamas has come under mounting Western pressure to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace deals or risk losing vital financial assistance. The European Commission on Friday said it had halted aid payments to the new government.
In an interview with Britain's Times newspaper published today, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, said the group was prepared to discuss what was meant by a two-state solution.
Zahar said he wanted clarification on the issue from the ''Quartet'' of Middle East mediators -- the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia.
Earlier this week, Zahar denied referring to a two-state solution to the conflict in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Deputy Prime Minister Naser al-Shaer, a moderate within Hamas, said the group was not about to change its stance.
''Hamas won't change its thinking and won't introduce such a massive shift in its thinking and risk losing its constituency,'' Shaer told Reuters.
Haniyeh will meet Abbas in Gaza later today. Haniyeh said he would talk to Abbas about a row over government powers.
''This (two-state solution) issue is not on the agenda for the prime minister's meeting with President Abbas,'' Palestinian cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad added.
Hamas, which defeated Abbas's long-dominant Fatah movement in January elections, has vowed to keep fighting the Jewish state since taking over the Palestinian government last week. It says talks with Israel would be a waste of time.
Israel calls Hamas a terrorist organisation and has vowed not to negotiate with the group. Fatah wants a two-state solution to end the conflict.
Haniyeh said he wanted to talk to Abbas about the president's decisions to assume control of the Gaza Strip's border crossings and make a high-level security appointment.
The moves by Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, underscore tensions between Hamas and Fatah.
''We are keen for dialogue and coordination with president Abu Mazen and that we respect his position but respect for this government and for its authority is also required,'' Haniyeh said in a speech at a mosque in Khan Younis.
Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000, but has largely abided by a year-old ceasefire.
REUTERS SHR BS1959