Hamas says accepts Palestinian statehood
Group leader Mashaal says his organization accepts establishment of Palestinian state within 1967 borders, but will not recognize Jewish state. Masshal adds Hamas will grant Israel a 10-year truce if it retreats to pre-1967 lands, promises to deliver another letter from kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit
Hamas accepts the establishment of a Palestinian state on within the 1967 borders but would not recognize the Jewish state, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said on Monday.
Mashaal added that Hamas would grant Israel a 10-year "hudna," or truce, as an implicit proof of recognition if Israel withdraws from the land the Palestinians claims.
Mashaal's comments were one of the clearest outlines Hamas has given for what it would do if Israel withdrew from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, which it seized in 1967.
He suggested Hamas would accept Israel's existence alongside a Palestinian state on the rest of the lands Israel has held since 1948.
"We accept a state on the June 4 line with Jerusalem as capital, real sovereignty and full right of return for refugees but without recognizing Israel," Mashaal told reporters, referring to the borders as they stood before the 1967 war.
"We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as a proof of recognition," he said. He said he made the offer to former US President Jimmy Carter during talks Friday and Saturday in the Syrian capital.
Mashaal used the Arabic word "hudna," meaning truce, which is more concrete than "tahdiya" - a period of calm - which Hamas often uses to describe a simple ceasefire. Hudna implies a recognition of the other party's existence.
Commenting on efforts by Carter to persuade Hamas to back peace talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel, Mashaal said his Islamist group would "respect Palestinian national will even if it was against our convictions".
But Mashaal said it was impractical to hold a referendum on peace as long as Palestinian national institutions were not functioning due to the schism between Hamas and the rival Fatah faction led by Abbas.
His remarks were in line with comments made by Carter in Jerusalem following his talks with the Hamas leader on Friday. Carter said Mashaal told him that Hamas would accept a peace deal creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel if it was approved by Palestinians in a referendum.
"They said they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders... and that they would accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor next door in peace", provided Palestinians passed such a deal in a referendum, Carter said.
Hamas has previously claimed all of what is now Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, and its charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Mashaal did not address whether the group would consider changing it. But his comments were one of the strongest Hamas statements in favor of a two-state solution.
"This is Hamas' clear vision," Mashaal added. He said the future Palestinian state must have Jerusalem as its "genuine, sovereign" capital. He appeared to be referring to east Jerusalem, since Israel held west Jerusalem before 1967.
Shalit won't be transferred to Egypt
Mashaal confirmed Carter's reports that his organization was willing to deliver another letter from kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit to his family. The Hamas leader said that his group would do so despite the fact that Israel was holding on to thousands of prisoners and "torturing many of them."
In the press conference, Mashaal said his organization had rejected Carter's offer to release Shalit to Egypt as an intermediate solution.
According to the Hamas leader, the former US president suggested that the group do so in return for the release of 71 prisoners included in a list presented by Hamas, whom Israel has agreed to free, in addition to the Hamas ministers and lawmakers arrested by Israel, minors and female prisoners.
"Although we rejected the offer, we said we prefer to continue the negotiations with the mediators, and particularly with the Egyptians. We prefer the indirect talks in order to guarantee the release of the number of prisoners and the criteria we demanded, as the prisoners issue relates to every Palestinian house," Mashaal said.
Addressing the issue of the Rafah crossing, the Hamas leader said, "We demand that the crossing be opened, particularly as it is a Palestinian-Egyptian crossing.
"We explained to former President Carter that we agreed that Egypt, we, the Palestinian presidency and the European Union will take part in operating the crossing, as long as the EU operates from Egypt and not from Israel and as long as its representatives don’t control the crossing's opening and closure."
Hamas vows 'harsh' attacks on Israel
Meanwhile Monday, a Hamas spokesman said the Islamic militant group would carry out harsher attacks on Israeli crossings - worse than recent ones that killed five Israelis.
The militant, Abu Jandal, told a newspaper linked to Hamas on Monday that previous attacks on Gaza-Israel crossings Israel were just "practice."
Two Israeli civilians and three soldiers have been killed in recent attacks. Israeli army responses in Gaza have killed more than 20 Palestinians.
Abu Jandal described the recent attacks as "a walk in the park" and said upcoming attacks would be harsher.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report