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Hamas willing to match Israeli peace moves-Meshaal

Written by: Staff

DAMASCUS, May 3: Hamas could reciprocate Israeli moves toward peace if the Jewish state agrees to withdraw from all lands occupied in 1967 and acknowledges Palestinian rights, the group's political leader Khaled Meshaal said today.

But Israel's president reiterated that talks with the Hamas-led Palestinian government could not commence unless it renounced violence, recognised the Jewish state and interim Palestinian peace deals with it.

''If Israel withdrew to the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem, acknowledges the right of return, lifts its siege, dismantles the settlements and the wall and releases the prisoners, then it is possible for us as Palestinians and Arabs to make a serious step to match the Zionist step,'' he said.

Meshaal, who is in exile in Syria, told a packed auditorium at Damascus University that there was ''no chance for a compromise'' unless Israel fulfilled such conditions and because it was unlikely to do so in the near future, the Palestinians had no option but to resist occupation.

Hamas, an Islamist militant group sworn to destroying Israel, carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against it since a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000. Hamas won Palestinian elections in January and formed its first government in March.

''What do we have to talk about with them?'' Israeli President Moshe Katsav told Israel's NRG Maariv Web site. ''They do not recognise our right to exist and are unwilling to talk to us.''


Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza that ''ending the occupation and returning Palestinian rights'' was a condition for any ceasefire or peace agreement.

Hamas, which has largely abided by a ceasefire for more than a year, has been under increasing Western and Israeli financial pressure to recognise the Jewish state, abandon armed struggle and accept interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals. ''If (the Palestinian leadership) accepts the terms ... then we will conduct a political negotiation with it,'' said Katsav, whose position is largely ceremonial and does not dictate diplomatic policy.

Meshaal slammed international pressure on the Palestinian Authority that has left some 165,000 civil servants without pay as ''an international crime'' and said Palestinians have the right to resist Israeli occupation.

''We're in a battle with Israel because Israel occupied our land and forced our people into destitution; the problem is not in Hamas, it is Israeli behaviour,'' he said.

He said that since the truce, Israel forces killed 260 Palestinians, wounded 1,700, detained 6,750, including women and children, and confiscated 3.6 million sq-meters of Palestinian land to build a ''separation barrier'', he said.

Israel says the barrier, a network of fences and concrete walls snaking through the West Bank, is meant to stop suicide bombers. The World Court has ruled that the barrier is illegal.

Israeli Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose cabinet is set to be sworn in tomorrow, has said Israel would be willing to quit some occupied West Bank lands in exchange for peace.

But he has also said Jerusalem, including the Arab eastern half captured in the 1967 West Asia war, would always be Israel's ''eternal and undivided capital''.

Olmert has also said that in the absence of peace talks, Israel would aim to set a border with the Palestinians by 2010, with the route largely following a barrier Israel is building that cuts into West Bank land Palestinians want for a state.

It also says that allowing Palestinians to return to homes they fled after the country's creation in the 1948 war would be detrimental to its existence as a Jewish state.


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