In an interview with the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, published on Monday, Khalid Mishaal said: "If Israel recognises our rights and pledges to withdraw from all occupied lands, Hamas, and the Palestinian people together with it, will decide to halt armed resistance."

His comments came as Ehud Olmert, Israel's acting prime minister, reiterated his government's refusal to negotiate with the Islamist group - but he said that his country would not close the door to all peace talks.

Speaking at a rally for his Kadima party, Olmert said: "We will not conduct any negotiations with Hamas or with anyone who is part of it or dependent on it."

However, he said this policy gave Israel the ability to protect its security "without closing off
diplomatic avenues, if those exist, to continue progressing".

No road map pressure

He did not elaborate, but Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has indicated that he might take over diplomatic contacts with Israel, leaving domestic issues to a Hamas government.

 

In earlier statements, Mishaal had said that Hamas could agree to a "long-term truce" with Israel if it were willing to return to the 1967 borders and recognise the rights of Palestinians to self-determination.

Mishaal said in his latest comments that Hamas did not feel bound by the so-called road map for peace, which was being ignored by other parties.

"Since no one is abiding by the dispositions of the road map, the Palestinians also feel it is not expedient to adhere to it," he said.

 

Respected

 

Last week, Hamas accepted an invitation from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to visit Moscow for talks on the future of the Middle East peace process.

 

In his latest interview, Mishaal said: "Russia is the first of the countries in the Middle East Quartet [Russia, the EU, US and UN] that respected the choice made by the Palestinian people and made it clear once again that it does not consider Hamas an extremist and terrorist movement.

"We greatly appreciate this stance."