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JERUSALEM – Hamas is “interested” in Israeli peace proposals and may be willing to negotiate indirectly with the Jewish state, Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas chief in the Gaza Strip, said in an exclusive interview while ruling out the possibility of his terror group disarming or ceasing “resistance” attacks.
“If the Israelis have an offer to be discussed and [the offer includes] two very important points – the release of all [Palestinian] detainees and a stop of all Israeli aggression, including the process of withdrawal from the West Bank…then we are going to search for an effective and constructive process [that will bring this] at the end,” said al-Zahar in an interview with WorldNetDaily’s Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein and ABC Radio’s John Batchelor broadcast on Batchelor’s national program. (Note: The audio file is available for download.)
Al-Zahar took the occasion of the interview to blast previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as failures and to claim his group would involve itself in talks using third-party mediators “if we believe it wont be a waste of time.”
“The one who led negotiations [with Israel] from the Palestinian Authority is [chief Palestinian negotiator] Saeb Erekat. They negotiated with the Israelis up to this moment and failed to satisfy the Palestinian people by creating a deal. So I think it is unwise to repeat this process.
“We are going to search for an effective, constructive process ended by the release of our people [from jail] and the withdrawal of the Israelis. If the Israelis have something to discuss, they can discuss it through many elements, with Egypt, Jordan, with [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas, and in public.”
Hamas last month was largely victorious in local municipal elections in Gaza and the West Bank, and is expected to do well in Palestinian parliamentary elections scheduled for Wednesday.
Analysts expect Hamas will join a coalition government with the currently ruling Fatah party.
Interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly ordered aides yesterday to draw up contingency plans in the event Hamas makes a strong enough showing to enter the Palestinian government.
Israel has rejected talks with Hamas and said it will not pursue negotiations with the PA until it abides by the U.S.-sponsored road map which calls for the disarming of terror groups, including Hamas, followed by Israeli withdrawals.
But Al-Zahar blasted the road map and general American involvement in Palestinian affairs, and rejected the possibility of his group disarming.
“The road map will never satisfy the Palestinian demands. The road map demanded the dismantlement of the process of [Palestinian] resistance, and to take away arms so that Israel can return to Gaza. … People are not trusting the American attitude now because it already said by 2005 there would be a Palestinian state. Now this is postponed. So nobody to my mind is interested now in the American or Israeli side to speak about the solution for the Palestinian people.”
Hamas has agreed to a cease-fire negotiated last February by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but Israel says the group has the past few months participated in several rocket and shooting attacks. Hamas maintains it has halted attacks. Hamas officials have warned the group may not renew the truce when it expires next month.
Some Fatah officials have reportedly demanded Hamas must agree to peace negotiations with Israel before it can join a Palestinian government, while other party leaders have said Fatah will form a coalition with Hamas regardless.
Al-Zahar was confident his terror group will be a part of the Palestinian government following this week’s elections.
“I think Abbas will cooperate with Hamas … a coalition with Hamas will be formed. Abbas understands very well no one else can reform and reconstruct Gaza and the West Bank,” said al-Zahar, explaining Hamas’ goals are “not too far from the agenda of Abbas.”
Hamas, classified by the State Department and the European Union as a terrorist organization, is responsible for thousands of deadly shooting attacks, more than 60 suicide bombings and has fired over 300 rockets and mortars into Israeli towns.
Among Hamas’ most notorious attacks are the “Passover massacre” in a Netanya hotel in 2002 in which 30 civilians celebrating the Jewish holiday were killed, the 2002 “Patt Junction bombing” of a Jerusalem bus killing 19 civilians, and the bombings in 2002 and 2003 of Jerusalem bus numbers 20 and 2, killing a combined 34 civilians, among scores of other large-scale suicide attacks.
The official Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel by “assaulting and killing,” and rejects all peace talks with the Jewish state.