Mahmud al-Zahar said on Tuesday he was planning to tour countries in East Asia, starting with China, next month.

"We are going to visit China and we have let the ambassador know," al-Zahar said in Gaza after meeting Yang Weiguo, the Chinese envoy to the Palestinian territories.

But in an apparent denial the Chinese foreign ministry said on Thursday that no such visit was yet on the cards.

"China at the present stage does not have such a plan yet," the ministry said in a statement, although it added that China planned to continue friendly ties with the Palestinians.

Cordial ties

"As for the issue of foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar leading a Hamas delegation to China, as far as we know, China at the present stage does not have such a plan yet"

Chinese foreign ministry

"At the same time [China] hopes the new Palestinian government will undertake active steps to continue to push forward the Middle East peace process," the ministry said.

China was cautious, but relatively welcoming, in its response to the Hamas election victory in January.
  
A visit to Beijing would have made China the second United  Nations Security Council member after Russia to host Hamas leaders since their election.

The US, Canada and the Netherlands have all said they would have no contact with Hamas until it gives up the Palestinians' right to the armed struggle against Israeli occupation and recognises Israel.