JERUSALEM – Hamas previously held meetings with European Union parliament members and with delegations from France, Italy and Norway who expressed interest in supporting and possibly establishing relations with the terrorist organization, Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas’ spokesman in Gaza, told WND in an interview.
Barhoum said he hoped former President Jimmy Carter’s meetings this week with Hamas leaders would encourage European officials to make public their purported desire to support his group.
The EU has denied meeting Hamas and lists the group as a terrorist organization. Italy has expressed interest in talking to Hamas, and Norway, not an EU member, met leading Hamas officials. France also has denied meeting Hamas.
Barhoum told WND that prior to Carter’s visit Hamas “met a delegation from the European Parliament, and they are supporting the Palestinian legitimate rights and Palestinian democracy; and they emphasized their full support for Hamas, because Hamas is the democratic choice for the Palestinians.
“There was a delegation from France, the government, and from Italy and Norway and from the EU parliament and from Carter,” Barhoum said, speaking from Gaza. “All of these are supporting Hamas, and they have a plan to support Palestinian rights and interests.”
The Hamas spokesman said there were “several meetings between Hamas and Europe, and they want finally to support Hamas.”
Barhoum called Carter a “very important and serious person. We think (his) meeting with us will encourage others who are already sending messages to us.”
Barhoum said “we in Hamas, all the time, want to meet more and more European officers, including France and Italy and Norway, in order to support Palestinian legitimate rights.”
Barhoum would not name any of the EU officials he claimed met with Hamas.
The Italian government also denies its officials met with Hamas. But last August, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi broke with EU official policy stating Hamas should be “helped so it works for peace.”
“Hamas exists, and it is a very complex reality that we must help so it works for peace” Prodi told reporters, drawing fire from Italian Jewish groups.
Last July, Italy’s Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Hamas is a “significant and substantial” part of the Palestinian people.
France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy has stated he does not support Hamas’ takeover of Gaza and has opposed talks with the terrorist group. But under the previous French administration, the country supported a Russian bid to initiate dialogue with Hamas officials.
It was previously reported Norway’s deputy foreign minister, Raymond Johansan, last March met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, who was then prime minister of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, which was deposed last year.
A top source in Hamas said some of the meetings with European officials took place in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
The source previously told WND he held meetings in a European country with British and French diplomats. He said the diplomats expressed an understanding with Hamas’ stated policy of accepting a cease-fire with Israel for up to 10 years.
In 2006, the Maan news agency, an independent Palestinian news outlet based in Ramallah and Bethlehem, quoted Hamas sources stating the terror group held meetings with European officials and with elements associated with the U.S. Democratic Party.
A Hamas source speaking to WND this week said the Democrat elements referenced by Maan were associated with Carter and with other “Democrat personalities” he refused to name.
The 2006 Maan report also quoted a Hamas source stating his group held meetings in a European country with representatives from the British and French governments.
The U.S. and Israel have been trying to isolate Hamas, which is classified by the State Department as a terrorist group. It is responsible for scores of deadly suicide bombings, and thousands of shooting attacks and rocket firings against Israeli civilian population centers.
Infuriating Israeli leaders, Carter yesterday met in Cairo with Hamas’ two most senior leaders in the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud al-Zahar and Saeed Seyam.
The two are identified by both Israeli and Palestinian security officials as the two most senior leaders of Hamas’ so-called military wing, which carries out terrorist activities from the Gaza Strip, including rocket strikes, suicide bombings, border raids, kidnappings and shooting attacks.
Al-Zahar, the chief of Hamas in Gaza, is leader of Hamas’ most radical wing and is widely regarded as chief of the terror group’s “military wing.” He served as the foreign minister in the Hamas-led Palestinian government, which was disbanded last year. Israeli officials say al-Zahar is more radical than Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ overall chief, who resides in Syria and is scheduled to meet with Carter later this week.
At a rally in March last year, al-Zahar told a crowd of thousands that Hamas’ short-term goal is “to liberate Palestine. Our final goal, which will be achieved, is that Islam will enter every house and will spread all over the world.”
Seyam, who served as Hamas’ interior minister, oversees Hamas’ so-called Executive Force, the group’s main militia. Seyam was one of the main architects of Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip last June, when the terror group expelled the U.S.-backed Fatah organization, overtaking all Fatah security compounds and reportedly seizing American weapons.
According to Hamas’ Barhoum, Carter first initiated a request to meet al-Zahar and Seyam.
Monday, while visiting the West Bank, Carter attended a reception with Hamas leader Nasser Shaer. The reception was closed to the media, but according to participants and the Hamas leader, Carter hugged Shaer and kissed him on each cheek, the customary greeting for good friends. Many U.S. diplomats refrain from kissing Palestinian officials.
“He gave me a hug. We hugged each other, and it was a warm reception,” Shaer told the Associated Press. “Carter asked what he can do to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel … and I told him the possibility for peace is high.”
Shaer previously served as deputy prime minister and education minister in the Hamas-led Palestinian government, which was toppled last year. He served time in Israeli prison after being charged with terrorist activities.
According to Israeli security officials, Shaer functioned as a financial and communications link between cells of the Hamas organization in Gaza and in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
In a WND exclusive interview earlier this week, Ahmed Yousuf, Hamas’ top political adviser in the Gaza Strip, called Carter a “noble person” whose planned meeting with Hamas would help the terror organization “engage with the world community.”
To interview Aaron Klein, contact M. Sliwa Public Relations by e-mail, or call 973-272-2861 or 212-202-4453.