Hamas chose Ismail Haniya, a 43-year-old Gazan viewed by many Palestinians as a pragmatist, as the new prime minister after sweeping elections on 25 January. The group hopes to complete forming a Palestinian government within two weeks.

"If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognise them," Haniya told the Washington Post in an interview posted on its website on Saturday.

Haniya did not say what form the recognition would take.

Israel on Sunday cautiously welcomed Haniya's statement. Meir Sheetrit, a cabinet minister, told Israel's Army Radio: "I wish they would change their positions ... . They (Hamas) may be starting to speak another language."

If Hamas were to accept Israel's conditions to recognise Israel and renounce violence, "we won't have any trouble speaking to Hamas, and to reach a settlement", Sheetrit said.

A representative at the US State Department did not immediately return a call seeking official US reaction to Haniya's comments.

Ready for talks

Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, has rejected talks with the Jewish state as a waste of time but it has said lately it could respect some aspects of interim peace deals from the 1990s that it had rejected outright in the past.

Haniya also said Hamas was ready to consider talks with Israel if the Jewish state withdrew from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and recognised the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees who fled in the 1948 war and their descendants.

Haniya did not say what form the
recognition of Israel would take

"Let Israel say it will recognise a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, release the prisoners and recognise the rights of the refugees to return to Palestine. Hamas will have a position if this occurs," Haniya said.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in September after a 38-year occupation but has vowed to hold onto East Jerusalem and major West Bank settlements and never allow millions of Palestinians abroad to flood into Israel.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967
Middle East War.
 
"If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, then we will establish a peace in stages," Haniya said. "We will establish a situation of stability and calm, which will bring safety for our people."

Call for review

Asked whether Hamas would abide by interim agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinians, Haniya said: "We will review all agreements and abide by those that are in the interest of the Palestinian people.

"The ones that will guarantee the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital with 1967 borders."

"We do not have any feelings of animosity towards Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody"

Ismail Haniya,
Palestinian prime minister-designate

Haniya said: "We do not have any feelings of animosity towards Jews. We do not wish to throw them into the sea. All we seek is to be given our land back, not to harm anybody."

Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings in Israel since the uprising began, but has largely abided by a ceasefire forged a year ago.

Meanwhile, Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has said in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday with Britain's ITV1 he will resign if he is no longer in a position to pursue his peacemaking agenda when the new Hamas government takes over.

But he held back from saying directly he would quit if Hamas continued to refuse to recognise Israel's right to exist and renounce violence.