'Britian should talk to Hamas'

Lawgivers call on gov't to engage "moderate elements" in Islamist groups.

pigua in TA, april 17 29 (photo credit: AP [file])
pigua in TA, april 17 29
(photo credit: AP [file])
Britain should begin talking directly with three of the Middle East's most prominent radical Islamic groups - Hamas, Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood - a committee of lawmakers said in a report released Monday. British diplomats should speak with "moderate elements" from such groups and continue engaging Iran and Syria because their influence can no longer be discounted, Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee said. "The Muslim Brotherhood is strong in Egypt, and Hamas and Hizbullah cannot be ignored," the report said. The report criticized Britain's role in the international boycott of Hamas, saying it had contributed to the collapse of the unity government in the Palestinian territories amid the violence and political breakdown that engulfed the West Bank and Gaza in June. Britain's priority should now be to draw Hamas back into a national unity government with the more moderate Fatah movement and persuade it to renounce violence, the committee said. The lawmakers urged former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the new envoy for the Quartet, an international group of Middle East mediators, to negotiate directly with the insurgent Islamic organization. A similar approach was recommended for dealing with Lebanon's Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's outlawed opposition party. Lawmakers described Hizbullah's role in Lebanon as malign and said the scope of the Brotherhood's Islamist agenda was uncertain, but the power and influence of the two made dealing with them unavoidable. The report said dialogue with Syria and Iran must feature in regional negotiations. It said Damascus - long accused of destabilizing Lebanon - "may slowly be changing for the better." Britain's Foreign Office said it had challenged Hamas to renounce violence before it would talk with the group, which now controls Gaza. "There have to be some ground rules," the office said in a statement. Hamas, which won elections last year but was expelled from government after its Gaza takeover, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Both have refused to negotiate directly with the group. The US - but not the EU - has also labeled Hizbullah a terrorist organization, although many countries, including Britain, have outlawed the movement's armed wing. US officials have also avoided meeting members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned since 1954 but is the country's most powerful opposition movement. While the report largely covered British policy in the Middle East, it also questioned US foreign policy. The committee said the US-backed "roadmap" for Middle East peace had become irrelevant, that its "surge" strategy in Iraq was unlikely to succeed, and that the "War on Terror" vocabulary espoused by US officials created resentment across the Middle East.