Mashaal offers to stop civilian attacks

Says Israel offered deal to only attack military targets; claims Schalit treated well, Holocaust exaggerated.

Mashaal 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mashaal 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas has offered Israel a deal in which both sides would refrain from attacking civilian targets, the group's Damascus-based leader Khaled Mashaal said. In an interview with Sky News broadcast Monday, Mashaal said the offer was identical to one made to Israel 10 years ago. "We renew our offer to Israel to let the civilians on both sides not be a part of this conflict," he said. "We renew this offer today." Mashaal asserted that if the IDF refrained from killing any Palestinian civilians, Hamas would only carry out attacks against Israeli military targets. Mashaal went on to confirm that captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit was alive. "Gilad is alive and we are treating him well, but Israel is treating the Palestinian prisoners they hold very badly," the Hamas leader told the British news channel. Speaking to AP Monday, Mashaal revealed details on Egyptian-brokered negotiations for a prisoner swap of Schalit for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. He said Hamas had agreed with Egypt on the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released - 1,000 - and on the details of the phases of the releases. But he said Israel had held up the deal because it rejected some of the names on the Hamas list on the grounds they have Israeli blood on their hands. The deal was for a release in staged phases, he said: First Hamas would hand over Schalit to Egypt, and Israel would release 350 prisoners. Once Egypt handed Schalit over to Israel, another 100 Palestinians would be released, Mashaal said. These would be followed an additional 550 prisoners to be released at a later stage. Separately, Israel would release all jailed women and children, he said. Hamas officials in the past have given varying numbers for the prisoners they seek released. "We gave Egypt the list of prisoners' names but Israel rejected most of them because they considered them to be prisoners with [Israeli] blood on their hands," Mashaal said. He confirmed that jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti was on the list of names. He said European mediators, whom he didn't name, were now involved in the talks. Addressing Schalit's father, who has often appealed to Hamas to release his son, Mashaal said: "Do not blame Hamas, (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert is responsible for your son's detention." Mashaal also told AP that Israel exaggerates Hamas's military strength. "Hamas's military capacity is humble, but the enemy is exaggerating it in an attempt to justify its aggression and justify more aggression and more brutality," he said. "Our weapons are humble, but we have great will. This is what makes our action effective," he said. The IDF has said it believed the Kassam range would reach 20 kilometers by the end of this year. Mashaal expressed concerns that Israel and the United States were preparing for a regional war. "Israel and America are beating the drums of war in the region. The neo-conservatives in America and Israelis want a new war to overturn the balance of power and achievements gained by the resistance," he said. In the Sky interview, Mashaal said rocket attacks were a "natural reaction" to the occupation and Israel's Apache helicopters and F-16 jets. "We have primitive weapons. I ask the international community and the Americans to give us more advanced weapons so we can shoot more accurately," he added. The Hamas leader stressed that it was the Palestinians' duty to fight for the resistance. "As the French fought the Nazis, and in the American revolution, as the Vietnamese people fought, as did the South African. This is ordinary behavior, it doesn't need brainwashing." He claimed that suicide bombings only began after Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein shot 29 people dead in Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994. "Israel killed during prayers in the mosque, and as an ordinary reaction the Palestinian people started defending themselves, as a response to the Israeli crimes. I want to tell you there was no suicide bombing before in Israel," he said. Mashaal blamed the Arab world for the Palestinians' repeated failure to defeat the "Israeli occupation" militarily. "We didn't lose as a result of not recognizing Israel or accepting their rules and conditions or the American rules and conditions. We lost because of the Arab weakness." Mashaal continued by saying that Hamas believed the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was "exaggerated." "We don't deny the Holocaust, but we believe the Holocaust was exaggerated by the Zionist movement to whip up people," he said. "We don't deny the fact but we don't accept two issues. We don't accept the exaggerating of numbers and we don't accept that Israel uses this to do what it wants." Mashaal also called for reconciliatory talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "We invite Mr. Abbas to come for unconditional talks in Gaza. Talks on how to address the reasons for the split, to return Gaza and the West Bank to unity and solve the security problem," he said.