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(photo credit: AP)
An exiled Hamas leader urged US President Barack Obama on Monday to talk directly with the terrorist group, saying it is the representative of the Palestinian people and the American president's drive for Mideast peace is impossible without them.
Hamas' deputy political leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, also told The Associated Press that the group would not renounce violence - a key US demand before Washington will agree to deal with the group that it considers a terrorist organization.
The US and its European allies also want Hamas to recognize Israel, another step the group has refused to take.
The Obama administration should change that position, Abu Marzouk said, "because they know that without Hamas their efforts will not succeed."
Hamas, which won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, has striven for international recognition. Most international players in Mideast peace efforts, however, have shunned the group because of its stance toward Israel and its refusal to accept past agreements signed between its more moderate Palestinian rivals and the Jewish state.
Complicating matters, Hamas seized control of Gaza two years ago in street battles with its rivals. That left the Palestinians split with separate governments in Hamas-run Gaza and in the West Bank, which remains under the control of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In recent months, Egyptian-brokered talks meant to end the internal division and form a power-sharing government acceptable to the West have failed because of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel.
In his Cairo speech last week, Obama challenged the Muslim world to confront violent extremism and urged Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states to find common ground to establish peace.
He also bluntly called on Palestinians to abandon violence, saying "resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed."
Abu Marzouk dismissed such a prospect, saying, "The real violence in the region is [the Israeli] occupation. It's also unacceptable that Obama talked about violence and didn't talk about occupation."
He praised Obama's firm stand against Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, which the Palestinians want for a future state along with Gaza and east Jerusalem.
The Hamas leader said the Obama administration must talk to the group.
"Dealing with Hamas is vital because [Obama] cannot deal with people who don't represent the Palestinian people," Abu Marzouk said, in a reference to Abbas' Fatah movement.