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A top European Union official held a secret meeting in Gaza with the leaders of Hamas, in spite of EU denials to the contrary, in which he praised the terror organization’s work, blamed terrorism on “Israeli occupation,” referred to Hamas militants as “freedom fighters” and failed to contradict claims Israel was responsible for the September 11 attacks, according to transcripts of the conversation obtained by WorldNetDaily.
There were some leaked reports of the 2002 meeting, but the transcripts for the first time expose what was discussed with Hamas and may shed light on various aspects of EU Mideast diplomacy.
The transcripts, seized from the Palestinian Authority Preventive Security compound in Gaza during Israel’s 2002 Defensive Shield operation and released through Israel’s Center for Special Studies, document a discreet meeting between Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by Israel in March 2004, and Alistair Crooke, the security adviser for Miguel Moratinos, then EU special envoy for promoting the peace process in the Middle East.
The meeting conflicts with a November 2004 statement issued by a spokeswoman on behalf of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana denying Solona or his staff ever met or held “direct contacts” with Hamas or other groups featured on the EU list of banned terrorist organizations.
Also present for the secret EU discussions were Hamas senior members Mahmoud al-Zahar, head of the group’s Gaza faction, and Dr. Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi, a senior Hamas official recently assassinated by Israel.
The documents, authenticated by security experts, are written in Arabic by Palestinian officials on PA stationary.
According to the confidential transcripts, Crooke explained to Hamas leaders he requested the meeting, in part, because he was worried a speech to be delivered by U.S. President George W. Bush regarding American policy toward the Middle East might reflect negatively on the EU.
“We are currently in an extremely grave situation,” said Crooke, according to the documents. “Europe doesn’t know what President Bush is going to say in his speech to the Middle East. So far there are about 27 drafts of that speech, and there are disagreements in the American administration over that issue.”
Crooke urged Hamas to keep the meeting private so that, the envoy explained, Israel and the U.S. could not take advantage of the conversation, according to the transcripts.
Crooke immediately voiced his appreciation of the terror group’s welfare programs, which include schools and health care centers, and praised Hamas as an “important political factor.”
He told Yassin and the other top Hamas leaders present: “The main problem is the Israeli occupation,” explaining he understood it was impossible for Hamas to lower the level of violence unless Israel and the Palestinians were engaged in a political process.
Crooke reminded Yassin the Mitchel Report, an independent list of recommendations that had just been released and of which Crooke was a co-author, determined it was impossible for violence to cease without a foreseeable political solution.
Yassin responded he was satisfied with Crooke’s “understanding” that the source of violence in the Middle East is Israel’s “occupation,” which Yassin said refers to the entire state of Israel, founded in 1948, not just the West Bank, which Israel obtained following the 1967 Six Day War.
“The Israeli army conquered the land in 1948 and followed in our footsteps in 1967,” said Yassin. “It kills civilians, the elderly, women and children and prevents us from earning livelihood. What are we to do? Are we to raise a white flag and surrender?”
Therefore, Yassin explained, according to the transcripts, Palestinians must rise up against the occupation, and the international community cannot ask the Palestinian people to stop defending themselves.
Yassin told Crooke he was dissatisfied with an EU decision to place Hamas on an official list of terror organizations, suggesting the Europeans should support Hamas “the way you supported the [Muslim] fighters in Afghanistan.”
Crooke replied Europe sympathized with the Palestinian people, adding, “I explained to Solana and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair that the status of Europe in the eyes of the Palestinians has started to decline. … We do not consider Hamas’ political wing to be a terrorist organization.”
Crooke talked about different definitions of terrorism: “As for terrorism, I hate that word. I’ve spent some time in my life with freedom fighters like in Colombia. …”
Hamas, a major force in the West Bank and Gaza, has perpetrated thousands of attacks that have killed several hundred Israelis, and is behind many of the Qassam and mortar attacks that have been hitting Jewish communities in Gaza.
Hamas also maintains a political wing that pollsters now say is likely to do well in upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections in which the group announced this week it will run. Hamas is currently supported by about 25 percent of the Palestinian population and is considered a formidable challenge to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, which is backed by about 48 percent of Palestinians.
At the 2002 meeting, Yassin informed Crooke of his goal to replace Israel with a “true state” encompassing the entire territory of “Palestine,” based on Arab and Islamic tradition and distanced from the corruption that Yassin said originates in Israel and the West.
Without addressing Yassin’s comments, Crooke continued by stating the EU objected to Israeli settlement activity.
“There must be a total halt of the settlement [activity],” said Crooke.
Yassin then blamed Israel for the September 11 terror attacks.
“Time will tell that Israel knew [in advance] what happened in America, and that it was global Zionism that paralyzed the American security so that war could be declared on the Islamic world and [on] Hamas. Approximately 100-120 American Zionist agents [knew about it] and did not report it. I do not rule out the possibility that they attempted to induce Hamas [operatives] and other Islamic operatives [to do it]. ”
Crooke, who according to the documents again didn’t respond to Yassin’s charges, expressed his wish that dialogue with Hamas would continue, preferably through the mediation of Palestinian Authority representatives, in order “not to cause embarrassment to any side.”
For many in Israel, the release of the transcripts may fuel longstanding charges of anti-Israel bias on the part of the EU. The Israeli government many times has expressed dissatisfaction with EU decisions it claims negate the Jewish state’s security and political position.
Israel was upset that EU nations, particularly France and the UK, maintained close relations with late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who was blamed for directing terrorist activity, despite U.S. and Israeli calls to isolate him. And Israeli officials blasted recent European criticism related to the construction of a West Bank security barrier that has been directly credited with decreasing the number of suicide bombers able to infiltrate Israel.
Observers attribute the EU’s traditional pro-Palestinian stance to its close economic ties to Arab countries and growing Muslim populations throughout Europe.
The EU previously adamantly denied meeting with Hamas, although in one interview, given to the BBC, Solana mentioned he had “had direct contact with Hamas, but not in the last few days.”
Yesterday, EU envoy Mark Otteh met Palestinian leader Abbas, offering to train Palestinian police, some of whom have been connected to acts of terror, and discussing the possibility of renewed economic assistance to the PA.
“Of course the EU is biased against Israel. This is nothing knew,” said a deputy from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office who was aware of the transcripts. “But to read [the Crooke] conversations is still shocking. The level of immorality displayed by it is very telling of the EU approach to the Middle East.”