Hamas softens tone

Hamas has ended its visit to Russia by admitting it needs to "change its manners" but refuses to compromise its stance towards Israel and says it is not concerned by Western threats to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority.

    Hamas leader Khalid Mishaal (L) and Patriarch Alexei II

    Israel, the European Union and the US have said they will stop funding unless the resistance group renounces violence and recognises Israel.


    But Hamas leader Khalid Mishaal said he was confident the party could secure the necessary money elsewhere.

    "Unfortunately all the parties trying to impose conditions on us want to swap the rights of our people for money and this will not happen," Mishaal said.

    Western donors who have for years supported the Palestinian Authority, now threaten to cut aid except that going directly to needy Palestinians, but Mishaal said Hamas was confident of getting funds from elsewhere.


    Iran has said it will meet any gap in official funding for a new government once it is formed by Hamas in the coming weeks.

    Softer noises

    "So far the results from our Arab, Islamic and international tour is encouraging," Mishaal said. "We will be informed of the numbers soon."

    Putin has conspicuously avoided
    meeting Hamas directly

    Mishaal's comments came after he finished his first visit to a major power since Hamas won the elections in January.

    He was given a tour of the Kremlin and met the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II, who called for Hamas to hold talks with Israel.

    Mohammed Nazzal, another senior Hamas official in Moscow, denied that the group said no to everything.

    He adopted a more moderate tone after three days when Hamas leaders had insisted that the next move in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was up to Israel.

    "We know that we are in a new phase, a new stage," Nazzal said referring to the group's victory in the 25 January Palestinian elections.


    "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."

    Israeli warning

    Despite the softer rhetoric from Hamas, Ehud Olmert the acting Israeli prime minister, told Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, that the talks were a mistake which would only encourage radicals bent on the destruction of the Jewish state.

    "If you  want Hamas to change its policies, you must also request that the  Israelis change their policies"

    Mohammed Nazzal,
    Hamas official

    "Russia's contacts with Hamas would only encourage the  organisation not to make the changes that the international  community is demanding of it in order for it to become a partner for dialogue," Olmert's office said he told Putin in a phone call.

    Explaining Russia's position, Putin said "negotiations are always held with a second party whose positions are difficult and complicated", according to a statement posted on the Israeli prime minister's website.

    However, underlying the sensitivity of the trip, even though Hamas leaders met Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, there were few public appearances of Russian officials and Hamas leaders together.

    Putin did not appear to have had any direct contact with the delegation at all during their three days in Moscow.

    Nonetheless, Hamas officials described their visit to Russia as a  "breakthrough" that they hoped would help the group to establish legitimacy on the world stage.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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