Mashaal: Hamas to be positive force in region

Hamas leader welcomes Obama's settlement policy, but says it is only one step; slams PA clampdown.

Mashaal 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Mashaal 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
"Hamas will be a positive force in helping to find a fair solution to the Palestinian people and enabling them to fulfill their rights," Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Tuesday night. "Hamas will not be an obstacle. Everyone knows that Israel is the obstacle," he said. Mashaal and other Hamas leaders have expressed optimism about the apparent change in US policy toward the Israeli-Arab conflict under the administration of President Barack Obama. "President Obama speaks a new language, but we expect real pressure on Israel," he said. He welcomed Obama's demand that Israel halt settlement construction, but said that this was only one step in reaching a compromise, "albeit a necessary one." Mashaal accused the Palestinian Authority of working to eliminate Hamas presence in the West Bank by, killing or arresting the movement's supporters there. Mashaal, who was speaking to reporters after holding talks with Egyptian General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, said that Hamas was being "subjected to a campaign aimed at uprooting it from the West Bank." He was referring to last week's killing of four Hamas militiamen in Kalkilya by security forces loyal to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Mashaal was invited to Cairo for talks with Suleiman and other senior Egyptian officials on ways of ending the rift between Hamas and Fatah. He was accompanied by several Hamas officials based in the Gaza Strip and Syria. Earlier this week, a senior Fatah delegation was also in Cairo for talks on the latest tensions with Hamas. Tuesday's meeting between Suleiman and Mashaal was held in a tense atmosphere, sources close to Hamas said. Mashaal expressed outrage during the meeting over the recent measures taken by Abbas's security forces in the West Bank and Cairo's failure to intervene to end the clampdown, the sources said. Mashaal stressed that Hamas would not resume reconciliation talks with Fatah unless Abbas halted the security crackdown on the movement in the West Bank. "Hamas is keen on achieving reconciliation [with Fatah]," he said. "But these obstacles must be removed so as to create a better atmosphere between the two parties." A Hamas official quoted Mashaal as telling the Egyptians that he viewed Obama's remarks last week in Cairo on the Middle East conflict as a "positive and encouraging" development. A senior Hamas official on Tuesday urged Obama to talk directly with Hamas, saying it was the representative of the Palestinian people and the American president's drive for Middle East peace was impossible without them. Hamas's deputy political leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, also told The Associated Press that the movement would not renounce violence - a key US condition for agreeing to deal with the Islamist group. The US and its European allies also want Hamas to recognize Israel, another step the group has rejected. The Obama administration should change that position, Abu Marzouk said, "because they know that without Hamas their efforts will not succeed." Abu Marzouk also dismissed Obama's call to abandon violence, 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 settlement construction in the West Bank. The Hamas official said the Obama administration must talk to the movement. "Dealing with Hamas is vital because he [Obama] cannot deal with people who don't represent the Palestinian people," Abu Marzouk said, in a reference to Abbas's Fatah faction.