DAMASCUS (AFP) – The Palestinian Islamic radical group Hamas’s supremo Khaled Meshaal slammed the Israeli government’s plan to finalise the country’s borders by 2010 as a “declaration of war”.
The Hamas leader warned in an AFP interview that the Islamic group would refuse any international aid that required the party to soften its line toward
Israel, which it refuses to recognise.
Rhetoric has soared between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic party’s trouncing of the long dominant
Fatah party at the polls in the Palestinian territories’ January elections.
The upset victory has put Meshaal, 50, in the spotlight as the world waits to see whether Hamas, known both for its suicide bombings against Israel and its charity programmes for impoverished Palestinians, will renounce violence.
Meshaal, the Damascus-based political chief, presented a tough face in his interview at his heavily-guarded home in the Mazzeh neighborhood of the Syrian capital.
He denounced Israeli Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plans to fix Israel’s permanent borders by 2010 through unilateral withdrawals from the
“This is not a peace plan, but a war declaration, which will permit Israel to stay in the largest section of the West Bank, to maintain their wall and settlements, to refuse all concessions on Jerusalem and to reject the Palestinians’ right of return.”
“It is a unilateral disengagement by Israel in the interest of its security needs and not the demands of peace,” said Meshaal.
“Olmert is in the process of committing the same errors toward the Palestinians that (Ariel) Sharon did.”
Olmert, whose ruling centrist movement dominates opinion polls for Israel’s election in three weeks, unveiled his new disengagement plan in interviews with the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz newspapers, published Thursday.
Olmert said he envisaged the borders would include the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion, the Ariel region of settlements in the north, the “Jerusalem envelope”, Maale Adumim and the “Jordan River as a security border”. Meshaal, a former physics teachers whose family lived near the West Bank town of Ramallah until the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, has previously broached the idea of a long-term truce with Israel, but has offered little in way of detail.
“When Israel commits to pulling back to 1967 borders, including east Jerusalem, destroying the wall, dismantling the settlements, recognising refugees and displaced Palestinians’ right to return, and frees all the prisoners, then Hamas will take serious measures toward peace,” he told AFP.
Sitting against a backdrop of posters of Hamas leaders killed by Israel, Meshaal, who survived a 1997 assassination attempt in Amman, confessed his life was still in danger.
“Israel does not hide its intention to eliminate the leaders of Hamas, even those who are elected like our brother (Ismail) Haniya,” he said, referring to Hamas’s designated prime minister, who has been charged with forming the next government in the Palestinian territories.
Israeli officials warned this week they would not rule out assassinating Haniya if he was found to be linked to any attacks against the Jewish state.
Meshaal said as the “top official” in the Islamist movement he hands out “functions and responsibilities according to a mechanism which Hamas prefers to keep secret”.
He himself was promoted in 2004 after Israel assassinated the group’s spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Meanwhile, Meshaal also called on Jordan to change its policies toward Hamas since it deported him in 1999 and shut the group’s Amman office.
“The manner in which they treat Hamas must change. We are no longer a movement, we represent the Palestinians legally through a democratic process,” said Meshaal.
He added Hamas was ready to receive money “from any nation in the world”, but would not accept any money on the condition of “political concessions.”
Meshal also sought to extricate his party from any link to the Al-Qaeda terror group, whose deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri sought to champion the Palestinian cause and associate itself with Hamas in a message last week.
Hamas “acts on its soil against the Israeli occupier and does not have any operations outside Palestine. The world must be able to make a clear distinction between us and Al-Qaeda.”