Mashaal praises Obama's 'new approach'

But says US president still too sympathetic toward Israel, urges him to pull Dayton out of West Bank.

Mashaal in Qatar 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Mashaal in Qatar 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Thursday praised what he described as US President Barack Obama's "new language" towards the group. "It is the first step in the right direction toward a dialogue without conditions, and we welcome this," said the Damascus-based leader during a televised speech in the Syrian capital. However, he said the US must respect the Palestinians' democratic choice. The Hamas chief also said Obama remains too sympathetic toward Israel, despite the president's pledge to work hard for the establishment of a Palestinian state. "Obama spoke widely about the suffering of Jews and their Holocaust in Europe but ignored the talk about our suffering and Israel's Holocaust that has been going on for decades against our people," he said. Mashaal called on Obama to pull out Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, the US security coordinator in the region, who is supervising the training of Palestinian forces in the West Bank. He said Dayton's force "is the main obstacle to the success of Palestinian reconciliation talks" that are being sponsored by Egypt. Mashaal also said Hamas was prepared to cooperate with any international effort that brought an end to the occupation, but rejected the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state, saying it would be worthless. "The Palestinian people reject the Israeli position presented recently [in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's Bar Ilan speech] on a demilitarized state, refugees, Jerusalem and a Jewish state… a demilitarized state would not have serious political essence," he said in the televised speech. "The Palestinians will not accept Jerusalem as a united capital under Jewish sovereignty." He said Netanyahu's "call for a so-called Jewish state is a racist demand that is no different from calls by Italian Fascists and Hitler's Nazism." Mashaal emphasized that the Palestinian people were committed to the return of refugees to their homes and warned against any possibly of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. "It's a definition that annuls the right of return to lands conquered in 1948," he said. Concerning captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, the Hamas leader said, "The only choice Binyamin Netanyahu has to secure the soldier's release is through a serious prisoner exchange." He said that Israeli stubbornness had hampered indirect talks and recent efforts. "We will continue to do everything we can to free our prisoners," he said. "Hamas is committed to securing the release of all 12,000 prisoners."