Hamas: Europeans seeking dialogue

Ahemd Yussef, a senior official in group, says Switzerland, Norway spearheading attempts.

Hamas guns in air 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Hamas guns in air 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Switzerland and Norway are spearheading European attempts to engage Hamas, one of the group's senior officials in the Gaza Strip said on Tuesday. Ahmed Yussef, a political advisor in the Hamas-run Foreign Ministry, said the two countries were "leading the change in Europe's position vis-à-vis the Islamic movement." He also disclosed that several European parties had been in contact with Hamas officials in the past few months, although he did not name them. Yussef claimed that the Europeans first initiated contacts with Hamas during Operation Cast Lead and continued to talk to representatives of the movement even after the war. He said the Europeans in touch with Hamas had urged its leaders to renounce violence, accept the two-state solution and recognize Israel's right to exist. He added that Hamas responded by expressing its readiness to reach a long-term truce with Israel. This was the first time a top Hamas official revealed that his movement had been in touch with European parties. Another Hamas official in the Gaza Strip revealed that French government officials had recently contacted Hamas representatives to discuss a possible solution to the case of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. The official said that Hamas had thus far rejected attempts by a number of European Union and Arab countries to replace the Egyptians as mediators in the affair. He also said that Hamas sensed a "real change" in the attitude of some EU countries toward the movement, particularly after the inauguration of US President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Hamas and Fatah officials are expected to resume "reconciliation" talks in Cairo aimed at forming a new Palestinian unity government. The talks, which are being held under the auspices of Egyptian General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, were suspended three weeks ago after the two parties failed to reach agreement over the proposed unity government and other political and security issues. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the talks, which will resume Wednesday, will deal with "sensitive" issues such as the political platform of the new government, the reconstruction of the Palestinian security forces and reforms in the PLO. Barhoum said Hamas would not sign an agreement with Fatah unless the Palestinian Authority stopped its daily arrest campaign against Hamas supporters in the West Bank. "Fatah promised during the previous sessions to release all the political prisoners," he noted. "But since then, the arrests have only increased." One of the sticking points is whether Hamas will accept all previous agreements signed with Israel and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas has said it will only "respect" these agreements, while Fatah insists that the word "recognize" by used in the political platform of the new government. On the eve of the renewed talks, Hamas reiterated its opposition to the appointment of outgoing PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad as head of the proposed unity government. Fayad submitted his resignation several weeks ago, saying he wanted to pave the way for the establishment of a Hamas-Fatah government that would attract badly-needed financial aid to rebuild the Gaza Strip. At the time, he said he would remain in office until March 31. However, sources close to the prime minister said on Tuesday that he was planning to remain in power until Hamas and Fatah reached agreement over a unity government.