Despite pressure, Hamas leader says Israel has 'no right to exist'

By News Agencies

Haaretz

Adar 5, 5766

MOSCOW - Palestinian election winner Hamas will not recognize Israel despite pressure from Russia to do so during talks in Moscow, a senior leader of the Islamic militant group said on Saturday.

Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas's deputy political leader, told Reuters in an interview that recognizing 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.

"We believe that Israel has no right to exist", he added later in remarks to an Arab audience. "Hamas will never take such a step."

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

Russia: Hamas agrees to year-long ceasefire with Israel
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday said Hamas has agreed to a year-long ceasefire with Israel, on condition of it refraining from any use of force during that time.

"Hamas confirmed its willingness not to withdraw from the March 2005 inter-Palestinian agreement on a cease-fire on the understanding that Israel will also refrain from use of force," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

The agreement between Palestinian militant factions was struck in Egypt last year following the Sharm al-Sheikh summit where Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed a ceasefire agreement.

On Friday the U.S. described the meeting between Russian diplomats and Hamas leaders as a positive development.

The meeting in Moscow "served the purpose to deliver the message," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said. "We think it's important that Hamas get the message loud and clear."

"We have a common front and a united purpose to make clear to Hamas that it has before it a clear and unambiguous choice," Ereli said.

Responding calmly to Hamas' refusal in Moscow to soften its hostility to Israel, Ereli said: "We'll judge Hamas by its actions."

A Hamas leader in Moscow, Ezzat El-Resheq, said the Islamic militant group would look positively on an extension of the ceasefire, but only if Israel "ended its aggression, assassinations and arrests and freed Palestinian prisoners".

"The ball is now in Israel's court," he told Reuters.

Meanwhile, South Africa has joined a growing list of countries inviting Hamas leaders for talks, raising Israeli concerns that the international front against the Islamic militants is crumbling.

Hamas officials arrived in Russia for first talks with a major foreign power on Friday but poured cold water on hopes of a peace breakthrough by saying they were firm in their refusal to recognize Israel.

"The issue of recognition is a done issue. We are not going to recognize Israel," Mohammed Nazzal, a senior official accompanying the group's exiled political leader Khaled Meshal, told reporters after their delegation arrived in Moscow.

Meshal said Friday that Israel must withdraw from territories occupied in 1967 and allow return of Palestinian refugees if it wants peace.

Meshal said that if Israel took these steps, "our movement will have taken a big step toward peace."

He welcomed the outcome of high-level talks with Russian officials - in which Hamas faced pressure to soften its hostility to Israel and abandon violence.

The talks were "good, constructive and open," Meshal said after meeting with Lavrov and other Russian officials.

The Russian foreign minister was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency that Hamas was ready to honor all the agreements the Palestinian administration had undertaken as part of the Middle East peace process if Israel made steps to meet it halfway.

Lavrov also said the Hamas leadership had agreed to allow international officials to monitor their budget funding, according to Interfax and RIA-Novosti.

"They are ready to create a mechanism of international oversight," Lavrov was quoted as saying. No further details were provided.

Lavrov: Hamas must change or will have no future
Earlier, speaking to reporters ahead of his talks with the Hamas delegation, Lavrov said the organization will have no future if the Palestinian militant group fails to transform itself into a political structure.

Lavrov said there was a "need for Hamas having been elected to a political body to transform itself into a political party and to be sure that the military wing of Hamas become a legitimate part of the Palestinian security structures."

Lavrov urged patience, saying that "we don't expect that Hamas will do all this and change itself overnight... It will be a process, hopefully not as long as the process in Great Britain regarding Northern Ireland," he added.

He said that Hamas needs "to reassess its new role, for which maybe it wasn't ready when the elections took place."

Putin won't meet Hamas delegates
In an apparent attempt to avoid damaging relations with Israel further, President Vladimir Putin decided against personally meeting the Palestinian delegation, which will only have a sightseeing tour of the Kremlin on Sunday.

An Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of Russia-Israeli relations said Israel also expects Moscow to clearly condemn Meshal's refusal on Friday to discuss recognizing Israel.

Russia's invitation, extended by Putin, was the first crack in an international front against the group, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the European Union and United States. Hamas has sent dozens of suicide bombers to Israel and does not accept the presence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.