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Who’s willing to meet with Hamas?
France has denied requests for visas from two Hamas members of the Palestinian legislature invited for talks at the headquarters of Europe’s leading human rights organization, the Council of Europe said Monday. The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly last month invited members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including two Hamas deputies, for talks at the assembly’s April
Tuesday, April 11,2006 00:00
by Associated Press

France has denied requests for visas from two Hamas members of the Palestinian legislature invited for talks at the headquarters of Europe’s leading human rights organization, the Council of Europe said Monday.

The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly last month invited members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including two Hamas deputies, for talks at the assembly’s April 10-13 session in Strasbourg which would also include members of the Israeli parliament.

Francesc Ferrer, a spokesman for the European organization, said it had received a letter from the Palestinian parliament saying the Hamas members had been unable to obtain visas. Another spokesperson, Micaela Catalano said the requests had been turned down by the French consulate in Jerusalem.

The French decision would be in line with the policy of the European Union, which has declared Hamas a terrorist organization.

The EU is struggling to forge a policy following Hamas’ sweeping success in January’s Palestinian elections. EU foreign ministers were meeting in Luxembourg to consider the bloc’s stance.

On Friday the EU said it had frozen millions of euros (dollars) in aid considered vital to keeping the Palestinian economy afloat because Hamas has refused to recognize Israel, renounce violence or commit to existing agreements.

Lawmakers from the Council of Europe had hoped to call a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian legislators in an effort to find common ground. They said Hamas members should be included to reflect the make up of the Palestinian assembly.

The organization invited Hamas to select two of its deputies to attend the talks. Ferrer said the secretary of the Palestinian legislature Mahmoud Ramahi had written to express regret that they could not attend.

Ramahi, a Hamas member, was himself refused a visa to enter Belgium last month to attend a meeting of lawmakers from around the Mediterranean region at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly comprises several hundred national lawmakers from 46 European countries, including the 25 members of the European Union. It meets four times a year in Strasbourg.

As well as enforcing the European Convention on Human Rights, the Council of Europe seeks to promote democracy and international cooperation.

Egypt’s FM shrugs off Hamas minister’s request for a meeting

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said he has turned down a meeting request by his new Palestinian counterpart in the Hamas-led government due to scheduling problems, newspapers reported Monday.

Aboul Gheit said he and other government officials were too busy with heavy schedules to meet with Mahmoud Zahar during his trip to Cairo later this week, a diplomatic snub that shows Egypt is enforcing the regional and international isolation of Hamas.

Other Arab countries often take cues from Egypt, a regional heavyweight.

"(Zahar) has requested to come but ... most of the Egyptian officials he asked to meet have previous engagements," Aboul Gheit said in comments carried by a number of Egyptian newspapers. "He set up a date for his visit but our circumstances do not permit."

Zahar has already scheduled meetings at the Cairo-based Arab League, and Secretary-General Amr Moussa has said he will receive him.

Aboul Gheit also said Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, will remain in charge of Palestinian external relations.

Shortly after Hamas won the election in the Palestinian territories in January, Hamas leaders - including Zahar - visited Cairo but only met with intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the key Egyptian mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Since then Egypt has publicly defended the Palestinian balloting that brought Hamas to power but doing little to co-opt the Palestinian radical group.

"This situation of Hamas puts the whole (Palestinian) issue at a crucial point," Aboul Gheit said.

At a summit in Sudan last month, the Arab leaders said a 2002 peace-for-land initiative is the Arab world’s only option for ending the conflict with Israeli, suggesting that a Hamas government should accept the plan.

Aboul Gheit said he "could not imagine that Hamas would overlook the initiative."

Zahar has said he received invitations to visit several Arab countries, including Egypt. He also said he plans to visit China next month, the first Hamas visit to a non-Arab country.

US congressman criticizes Turkey’s decision to meet with Hamas leader

A U.S. congressman on Monday criticized the Turkish government for meeting an exiled Hamas leader, but said the issue should not harm relations with the United States.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul met with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Ankara in February, sparking a rift with Israel and drawing criticism from some U.S. officials.

U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, met with Gul on Monday and later told reporters: "I expressed respectfully my disagreement with Turkey’s decision to meet with Hamas."

"Terrorist organizations cannot be permitted to use the electoral process to advance their violent agenda," said Wexler, who is co-chair of the U.S. Congress’ caucus on Turkey.

The congressman said, however, the rift should not harm ties.

"We must not allow the disagreement to in anyway harm the full relationship between the United States and Turkey," Wexler said.

Pakistan urges international community to work with Hamas-led PA

Pakistan on Monday urged the international community to work with the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Pakistan’s call follows decisions by the European Union, United States and other Western countries to freeze aid to the new Hamas-led government over its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

"We have repeatedly said that Hamas is the elected representative of the Palestinian people and this is democracy at work and the international community must engage with Hamas," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told reporters in the capital, Islamabad.

Pakistan has no diplomatic ties with Israel and demands a separate homeland for the Palestinians. Radical Pakistani Islamic groups, which are strongly opposed to the Jewish state, hailed Hamas’ massive victory in the January Palestinian elections. 


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