Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hamas Officials Signal Willingness to Negotiate - Sorta

Via AP -

Senior officials in the Islamic group Hamas are indicating a willingness to negotiate a long-term truce with Israel as long as the borders of Gaza are opened to the rest of the world.

"We want to be part of the international community," Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad told The Associated Press at the Gaza-Egypt border, where he was coordinating Arab aid shipments. "I think Hamas has no interest now to increase the number of crises in Gaza or to challenge the world."

Hamas is trying hard to flex its muscles in the aftermath of Israel's punishing onslaught in the Gaza Strip, doling out cash, vowing revenge and declaring victory over Zionist aggression. But AP interviews with Hamad and two other Hamas leaders in the war-ravaged territory they rule suggest some of that might be more bluster than reality — and the group may be ready for some serious deal making.

That raises the question of whether Hamas, which receives much of its funding and weapons from Tehran, can be coaxed out of Iran's orbit. That question looks less preposterous than it did before President Barack Obama began extending olive branches to the Muslim world and Israel's Gaza offensive reshuffled Mideast politics.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, said in comments aired Thursday that the Palestinians must heal their internal rifts and he welcomed aid for Gaza from any source. He also seemed to leave a door open for better relations with the U.S.

"I think it is not in America's interest to stay in conflict with the Arab and Muslim world, considering its interests in the region," Haniyeh, who remains in hiding after Israel's onslaught, said on Al-Jazeera television. "We hope that the new American President revises all the policies of his predecessor."

The militants appear to be in the throes of an internal power struggle between hard-liners and pragmatists. Which group comes out on top will likely depend on who is able to garner the most benefits in postwar Gaza.

With hawks urging more violence, the window of opportunity to boost the voices of relative moderation is likely to be short.

"We won this war," said Hamas politician Mushir Al-Masri. "Why should we give in to pressure from anyone?"

Al-Masri spoke to the AP while standing next to a chair that used to serve as his seat in the Palestinian parliament, now reduced to rubble by Israeli bombing. Surrounding him were cracked cement, broken bricks, shattered glass and microphones covered in ash.

Yet even Al-Masri, a staunch hard-liner, sounded a conciliatory note.

"We have our hands open to any country ... to open a dialogue without conditions," he said — clarifying that does not include Israel.

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