Meshal in Russia: Putin will try to lift PA embargo

By Avi Issacharoff and Amiram Barkat

Haaretz

Adar 10, 5767

The head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshal, reiterated on Tuesday that his organization was not willing to recognize Israel. Speaking at a joint press conference following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Meshal said that Israel must end the occupation and the suffering of the Palestinian people and "only then will the Palestinians make their position [on recognition] clear."

Other Hamas spokesmen told Haaretz on Tuesday that the Mecca agreement, in which Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a government of national unity, has not altered in any way the Islamist organization's stance on Israel.

The Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Radwan, said that the organization will never negotiate with Israel.

Radwan clarified that Hamas' willingness to agree to a state within the 1967 borders is only one part of the multi-stage solution it envisions.

"We have not given up in any way our position regarding the territory of Palestine," he said.

"We are willing to consider a possibility for a long-term hudna [cease-fire] if the Zionist enemy releases the Palestinian prisoners and the refugees return to their homes.

No more. The Mecca agreement has to do with the government, not Hamas," he added.

A different spokesman of the organization in the Gaza Strip, Fauzi Barhum, said that "Hamas has decided to show a political horizon, but our position is clear. All the land of Palestine [from the sea to the river] belongs to the Palestinians and Israel is the enemy. However, our political horizon offers a hudna for 15-20 years, in return for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, the return of the refugees and the release of the prisoners."

At the Moscow press conference, the Russian foreign minister said Meshal had promised an end to the Qassam rocket attacks against Israel.

Calling on Hamas to use its strength to end the violence against Israel, Lavrov said that "we have received confirmation that such steps will be adopted," referring to an end to the rocket attacks.

The Russian foreign minister also promised that his country would work toward lifting the international embargo on the Palestinian Authority and will support the new unity government.

"Russia supports the understandings reached between Hamas and Fatah over the sharing of power, because they are an expression of reason, wisdom and responsibility toward the Palestinian people," he said.

The senior Russian official added that his country was working to ensure that "all the members of the international community will support this process, including efforts to lift the embargo."

Two weeks ago Russian president Vladimir Putin met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and told him that he hoped the establishment of a unity government would result in ending the embargo on the PA.

Russia is a member of the Quartet  which also comprises the UN, the EU and the United States. The Quartet has conditioned the resumption of ties with the government of the PA and the renewal of aid transfers on Palestinian recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of earlier accords between Israel and the PLO.

France has also hinted recently that it may support lifting the embargo.

On Sunday, French President Jacques Chirac declared that his country would recommend to the European Union "to support the Palestinian efforts to establish a new unity government."

Chirac said that he would ask the EU to support the unity government during the March summit of EU leaders, but did not specify what practical steps this support would entail.

Meanwhile, Palestinian sources told Haaretz on Tuesday that in spite of the cease-fire between Hamas and Fatah and the agreement on a unity government, the two sides are preparing for the possibility of renewed fighting.