A leader of the Palestinian terror group Hamas rejected international demands to renounce violence, saying in a newspaper interview published Monday that Israel must first pledge to leave all occupied lands.
Russia has said it will press Hamas - which won an unexpected victory in Palestinian legislative elections last month and will form the next government - to recognize Israel’s right to exist and foreswear violence.
Russia is the first of the countries in the Middle East Quartet that respected the choice made by the Palestinian people and made it clear once again that it does not consider Hamas an extremist and terrorist movement,” said Mashaal.
"We greatly appreciate this stance,” he said. The other members of the so-called Quartet of Middle East peacemakers, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, have insisted they would not deal with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
They have threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed aid to the cash-strapped government unless the group recognizes Israel and renounced violence.
'Hamas does not back Road Map'
But Hamas, responsible for scores of deadly attacks against Israelis, has refused to renounce its charter calling for Israel’s destruction or to give up its weapons, despite its decision to uphold a cease-fire declared a year ago. The United States and Europe consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Mashaal, who is expected to lead the delegation to Moscow, said that as long as Israel insisted on retaining control of occupied territories, Hamas would not give up violence. "But if Israel recognizes our rights and commits itself to leaving all occupied lands, then Hamas as well as the Palestinian people will take a decision to halt armed resistance,” he said.
The Hamas leader also reiterated that his group does not accept the “Road map” peace plan backed by the Quartet because Israel allegedly does not abide by it. President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to Hamas to visit Moscow stunned Israel. One cabinet minister accused Putin of “Stabbing Israel in the back."
But in an apparent effort not to alienate Moscow as Washington seeks Russian support for international pressure over Iran’s nuclear program, Israel on Sunday signaled it would not trigger a crisis with Russia over its intention to invite leaders of Hamas for talks.