Hamas says it´s holding talks with 5 EU countries (AP) Associated Press) By KARIN LAUB and IBRAHIM BARZAK BEIRUT, Lebanon 05/02/12 4:22 pm ET)
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BEIRUT – Hamas has been holding secret political talks with five
European Union member states in recent months, a senior official in
the Islamic militant group told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
If confirmed, such talks would be a sign that the isolation of the
Gaza-based Palestinian movement is easing in the wake of the Arab
Spring uprisings that have brought Islamists to power in parts of the
The EU and the U.S consider Hamas a terror group and refuse to deal
with it unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel.
However, the West is reassessing its Mideast policy following the
uprisings of the past year that toppled several pro-Western regimes
in the region and gave rise to the Hamas parent movement, the pan-
Arab Muslim Brotherhood.
It appeared possible that some EU member states are now softening
their approach toward Hamas.
In an interview Wednesday, Beirut-based Hamas official Osama Hamdan
said his group has been talking to government officials from five
major EU member states in recent months. He would not list the
"I can say it´s an important level (of officials), without defining
whether it´s junior or senior, and the channels are working," said
Hamdan, who handles the group´s foreign relations and spoke at a
Hamas office in Beirut´s southern Dahiya neighborhood. "It´s not just
a contact. It´s channels of talking."
Hamas won Palestinian parliament elections in 2006 and seized control
of the Gaza Strip by force a year later. Since then, the West has
demanded that the group recognize Israel and renounce violence, in
exchange for international acceptance. The Islamists, whose top
leaders live outside the Palestinian territories, have largely
observed an unofficial truce with Israel in recent years but balk at
Hamdan is the first Hamas official to speak publicly and in some
detail about purported contacts with Western governments.
In Gaza, three Hamas officials said Britain, France and the
Netherlands are among the countries involved in backchannel talks.
Two also mentioned Austria, and one added Sweden to the list. The
officials said talks have been held in Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt and
Turkey. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because of the
sensitive nature of the diplomatic contacts.
Officials in Britain, France, Austria and the Netherlands denied
their governments are conducting talks with Hamas, while officials in
Sweden could not immediately be reached for comment.
In the backchannel talks, Hamas is seeking assurances that European
countries will recognize the outcome of future Palestinian elections,
Hamdan said. It´s not clear when such elections would be held, since
they are linked to a stalled reconciliation agreement between Hamas
and its main rival, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud
"They have to accept the Palestinian democracy," Hamdan said of the
international community. "We believe that if ... they are ready to
accept the results, regardless to the names and the organizations,
that would be fine for the Palestinians."
Hamdan said he believes the changes in the region, with its
resurgence of Islamist movements, have prompted some European
countries to review their policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, including Hamas. "I think the Europeans also understand
that if they want to deal with the region in the Arab Spring, they
will face big questions from the region toward the Palestinian
cause," he said.
Hamdan said European officials keep bringing up the issue of
recognition of Israel in backchannel talks, but that Hamas won´t
Hamdan and others in Hamas argue that recognition cannot be granted
as long as Israel controls war-won territories the Palestinians want
for a state. The Hamas founding charter calls for Israel´s
destruction. In recent years, senior Hamas officials held out the
possibility of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but they refuse
to say this could be the permanent solution to the conflict.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he couldn´t
confirm European meetings with Hamas. The group can only play a role
if it meets the long-standing demands by the international community,
he said. ___ Barzak reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated
Press writers David Stringer in London, George Jahn in Vienna, Jamey
Keaten in Paris, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Bradley Klapper in
Washington contributed reporting. (© 2012 The Associated Press
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