West should deal with Hamas, exiled leader says

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal urged the West Wednesday to lift its boycott of the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

“I tell European nations … three years of trying to eliminate Hamas is enough. It is time for you to deal with Hamas, which has gained legitimacy through struggle,” Meshaal said in a televised speech from the Syrian capital.

Comparing Hamas to European liberation movements during World War Two, Meshaal said Hamas has earned further legitimacy by withstanding the Israeli invasion of Gaza.

“The resistance remained steadfast despite the huge imbalance in firepower. Our people remained standing and Hamas emerged stronger,” he said.

Hamas won a parliamentary election in 2006 and drove its Fatah rivals from Gaza by force in 2007.

Meshaal criticized Arab leaders who did not support Hamas in the war but said it was prepared to seek reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, if he did not compromise on Palestinian rights in seeking peace with Israel.

“For those who sell out and raise the excuse of wanting no more dead, I say victory is achieved only with blood,” Meshaal said.

Under international pressure, Israel and Hamas declared separate ceasefires in the Gaza Strip after a 22-day Israeli offensive devastated the small, densely-populated Palestinian territory and killed about 1,300 Palestinians.

Thirteen Israelis were killed — 10 soldiers and three civilians killed by Palestinian rocket fire.

Israel said its offensive was to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel.

Meshaal said the offensive failed to neutralize Hamas’s ability to hit Israel with missiles and re-iterated Hamas’s goal of lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

The blockade undermined the living standards of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians and was one of the main reasons cited by Hamas behind its decision last month not to renew an Egyptian mediated calm with Israel.

“This battle has proved that force alone will not provide security for the Zionist entity (Israel) and that peace will not be at the expense of Palestinian rights,” Meshaal said in his first public comments since the ceasefire.

Leaders of Hamas have said they are not prepared to recognize Israel but would accept establishment of a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war in return for a truce with the Jewish state lasting decades.

France, which played a role in halting the Gaza war, indicated Tuesday that it might be prepared to hold talks with Hamas even if Hamas did not recognize Israel.

The European Union, along with the three other main Middle East mediators — the United States, the United Nations and Russia, has said there can be no dealing with Hamas until it recognizes Israel, renounces armed struggle and accepts interim peace deals signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Meshaal lives in Syria along with other exiled Palestinian leaders.

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