Hamas dismisses Qaeda call on Israel

* Shrugs off appeal as Zawahiri’s personal ‘opinion’.
* Says Hamas will take independent decisions in the interest of Palestinians

MOSCOW: Palestinian group Hamas shrugged off a call on Sunday from Al Qaeda to keep up its fight against Israel, dismissing the appeal as an “opinion” of Ayman al-Zawahiri and saying it would only take decisions that were strictly in the interests of the Palestinian people.

“This is his own opinion,” Mohammed Nazzal, a senior Hamas official, told AFP. “He has the right to it. But we are neutral. When Hamas wants to take a decision or take a stand it will be a step by the leadership of Hamas alone and will be in the interests of the Palestinian people. We are looking out for the interests of the Palestinians.”

Asked whether the timing of the appeal to Hamas from the network led by Osama Bin Laden had made Hamas leaders uncomfortable, Nazzal said only that Zawahiri “has the right to express his opinion”.

“We believe in free thinking and free opinion,” he said. “We can’t suppress any opinion against our own opinion.”

Nazzal went on to say that Hamas recognised that it would have to “change its manners” now that it was the elected representative of the Palestinian people and said it viewed its landmark visit to Russia, which ended on Sunday, as a first step in that direction.

Senior Hamas leaders however maintained their uncompromising line on Israel, saying any softening of the organisation’s positions would only be feasible if Israel changed its policies in dealing with the Palestinians..

“We don’t say ‘no’ to everything,” said Nazzal, who was accompanying Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to Moscow, ahead of the delegation’s meeting with Patriarch Alexei II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the group’s last formal event in Moscow.

“We know that we are in a new phase, a new stage” following Hamas’ shock victory in the January 25 Palestinian elections, he said.

“Hamas must change its manners. We know that very well. But what we are saying is that we want a response from the Israelis. If you want Hamas to change its policies, you must also request that the Israelis change their policies.

“We are saying ‘yes’ to peace. We are saying ‘yes’ to building relations with the international community. We are saying ‘yes’ to anything we feel will be in the interest of the Palestinian people,” Nazzal said.

Nazzal and other Hamas officials described their visit to Russia, their first official contact with a major power, as a “breakthrough” they hoped would help their group – listed as a “terrorist organisation” by Israel, the United States and Europe – establish legitimacy on the world stage.

“This visit will encourage many countries to contact Hamas and invite Hamas to their countries,” Nazzal said.

The Hamas visit to Russia was made at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, who caught the other three members of the international Middle East “quartet” of mediators – the United States, the European Union and the United Nations – by surprise with the move. afp