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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 20:30 GMT
Hamas rejects al-Qaeda's support
Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal in Moscow
Khaled Meshaal says he won't take his cue from al-Qaeda
Hamas has dismissed a message by al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri urging the Palestinian militant group never to make peace with Israel.

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal said the movement had "its own vision" and did not need al-Qaeda's advice.

He was responding to a video statement in which Zawahiri called on Hamas - which won last month's Palestinian election - to continue to fight Israel.

Mr Meshaal was speaking after talks with Russian officials in Moscow.

Hamas, which has carried out hundreds of deadly attacks against Israeli targets since the early 1990s, is seeking international legitimacy as it tries to form a Palestinian administration.

However, it continues to insist it does not recognise Israel's right to exist, despite coming under renewed international pressure to change its stance.

Zawahiri's video message was broadcast by al-Jazeera TV on Sunday.

[Hamas] always acts in the interests of the Palestinian people and makes any changes only after careful deliberation
Khaled Meshaal
Dressed in a black turban and white robe, al-Qaeda's deputy leader accused the outgoing Palestinian administration of betrayal.

"The seculars in the Palestinian Authority have sold out Palestine for crumbs... Giving them legitimacy is against Islam," he said.

Zawahiri urged Hamas to "continue the armed struggle" and reject agreements signed between its predecessors in government and Israel, describing them as "surrender accords".

He called on Muslims in "Palestine, Iraq and everywhere else... [to] be wary of the new American game entitled the 'political process'", alluding to recent elections.

'No trap'

Reacting to Zawahiri's video message, Mr Meshaal said:

"The movement always acts in the interests of the Palestinian people, and makes any changes to its strategy only after careful deliberation."

Ayman al-Zawahiri
Zawahiri said the Palestinian Authority had betrayed its people
Chief Hamas legislator Mahmoud al-Zahhar denied his movement had "walked into a US trap" by participating in the Palestinian elections.

"Entering these institutions does not mean that we will be a carbon copy of other factions," he told al-Jazeera.

At talks in Moscow at the weekend, Hamas refused to change its position on recognising Israel.

"If Israel is willing to recognise Palestinian rights and a completely independent Palestinian state, then we will be ready to announce our position," Hamas delegate Mohammed Nazzal told AFP news agency.

"If you want Hamas to change its policy, you must also ask the Israelis to change theirs."

Phone call

Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday that contacts with Hamas were a "mistake".

In a phone call to President Putin, Mr Olmert said such contacts "would only encourage the organisation not to make the changes that the international community is demanding of it," Mr Olmert's office said.

It also said Mr Putin had assured Israel that Russia would not take any step against its interests or security.

Meanwhile legislators from the Fatah movement - which controlled the Palestinian Authority until its election defeat - urged their group to reject an invitation by Hamas to join a new administration.

They cited Hamas' rejection of the Middle East peace process as a reason for staying away.

Watch clips from the video of Al-Qaeda's deputy leader

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