Blair 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said over the weekend that there were "indications" suggesting that the international community was on its way to ending its boycott of the Islamic movement.
The officials said they were "encouraged" by statements made by former British prime minister Tony Blair, who serves as the Quartet's special Middle East envoy.
In an interview published in The Times of London, Blair said that Hamas must be involved in the Middle East peace process.
He said that in the past, the issue of the Gaza Strip was neglected in an effort to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank - an effort, he added, that was never going to work.
Blair added that Hamas must both renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist before it could be involved in the peace process.
"I do think it is important that we find a way of bringing Hamas into this process, but it can only be done if Hamas is prepared to do it on the right terms," he said.
Dr. Yusef Rizkeh, former information minister in the Hamas government and a top adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said that his movement sees Blair's remarks as recognition of Hamas's major role in the region.
He attributed the "change" in Blair's rhetoric to the "steadfastness of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the face of the Israeli aggression and Israel's war crimes there."
From Blair's statements, he said, one can see that he was admitting that Hamas plays a central role in the conflict and in peace.
"This recognition could be the first step toward removing Hamas from the list of terror organizations," Abu Rizkeh said.
The Hamas official pointed out that Blair was no longer talking about the Quartet's three conditions for talking to Hamas - recognition of Israel's right to exist, accepting all agreements that were previously signed between the PLO and Israel, and renouncing violence.
"Blair is no longer talking about the Quartet conditions," he added. "Rather, he's talking about appropriate conditions. We hope that the change in rhetoric reflects a change of policy."
Abu Rizkeh lashed out at Blair for failing to "condemn Israel's atrocities" and for not visiting the Gaza Strip to inspect the losses the Palestinians incurred during the war.
Another Hamas representative in the Gaza Strip claimed that some European countries have already sent "indirect messages" to his movement expressing their desire to talk.
He refused to mention which countries had approached Hamas. But he added that "following the war, a number of European governments have realized that it's impossible to get rid of Hamas and that we are a major player in the Middle East."
But in spite of the cautious optimism voiced by some Hamas officials, others scoffed at Blair's remarks, stressing that their movement would never join the peace process.
"Blair's statements are foolish and worthless," said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator and spokesman in the Gaza Strip. "He's simply repeating the same conditions that the West used to justify their refusal to recognize the democratically-elected government [after the January 2006 parliamentary election]."
Masri said that Hamas today "represents a strong military, political and popular equation that can't be ignored."
He added that it was "imprudent" of Blair to ask Hamas to recognize Israel and "relinquish the armed resistance."
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip said that the contradictory statements issued by Hamas reflect the divisions that have emerged among the top brass of the movement in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.
"Today we are hearing conflicting statements from Hamas," noted a veteran journalist in Gaza City. "It's obvious that there are serious divisions inside Hamas regarding the future strategy. Hamas is in a deep crisis."
Others said that the rift between the Hamas leaderships in the Gaza Strip and Syria had grown in the past few weeks.
"The Hamas leaders seem to be very angry with [Damascus-based Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal for acting independently and without coordinating [his] moves and statements with the leaders in the Gaza Strip," said an independent Palestinian political analyst in Gaza City.
"The local leaders believe that while they paid a heavy price, the leaders in Damascus were staying in five-star hotels in Arab capitals."
He said that while the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip favored a new cease-fire with Israel, Mashaal and his friends were not eager to reach such a deal before achieving political gains.
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