European Union officials hold secret talks with Hamas

European Union officials hold secret talks with Hamas

EU security officials have been conducting secret talks with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip over the past few weeks, Palestinian Authority officials told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

The PA officials did not reveal the identity of the visitors, except to say that they belonged to three EU intelligence services.

The Europeans are said to have met with top Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, as well as Ahmed Yusef, political adviser to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

Sources close to Hamas confirmed that EU officials had visited the Gaza Strip recently for talks focusing on security-related issues.

According to the sources, the Hamas leaders urged the EU representatives to work to end the boycott of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, and to pressure Israel to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

“We hope these talks will be the first step toward ending the boycott of Hamas, which came to power in a free and democratic election,” the sources told the Post. “There is growing awareness among the Europeans of the fact that Hamas can”t be ignored as a major player in the Palestinian arena.”

In response, Christina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana, told The Jerusalem Post that she was unaware of any such meetings. On a separate note, she said that Solana was due to visit the region this weekend and would be in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Jordan.

Israeli government officials contacted about this matter Tuesday night said they knew of no EU contacts with Hamas.

One government official reiterated that Israel‚s position was that “Hamas should not be dealt with and should be kept as far away form the game as possible.”

The official added that Hamas was a terrorist organization “that continues to do whatever it can to impede any chance for progress.”

This is the first time Hamas has confirmed that its representatives have held secret talks with EU security officials.

The Hamas representatives reportedly stressed during the talks that they were not interested in a major confrontation with Israel.

Both Zahar and Yusef denied assertions that Hamas was planning a wave of terrorist attacks in the West Bank to undermine PA Chairman Mamoud Abbas”s status ahead of November”s Middle East peace conference.

Meanwhile, Abbas has asked Sudan to use its good offices with Hamas to resolve the crisis in the PA. A senior Fatah delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmed, who is close to Abbas, held talks in Khartoum on Tuesday with Sudanese government officials on ways of ending the Fatah-Hamas dispute.

The Fatah delegation emphasized that Abbas and Fatah were keen on resuming “national dialogue” with the Islamist group.

Herb Keinon and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.