Page last updated at 22:38 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 23:38 UK

Hamas rejects Israeli recognition

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, 21/04/08
Khaled Meshaal said Hamas was prepared to offer a 10-year truce

Palestinian militant group Hamas will not recognise Israel, its political leader Khaled Meshaal has insisted.

He was responding to comments by former US President Jimmy Carter, following their talks in Syria at the weekend.

Mr Meshaal said Hamas agreed to a Palestinian state on the land in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza that Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Mr Carter had said Hamas was prepared to accept the right of Israel to "live as a neighbour next door in peace".

Actions speak louder than words
White House spokeswoman

Speaking in Syria, where he lives in exile, Khaled Meshaal said the Palestinian state must have "Jerusalem as its capital, with genuine sovereignty, without settlements".

He added that this did not mean recognising Israel, but he said: "We have offered a truce if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, a truce of 10 years as an alternative to recognition."

The United States said Mr Meshaal's comments did not amount to a change of position by Hamas.

In any case, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "actions speak louder than words".

Many Israelis and their allies do not believe Hamas' offer of a truce, says the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

They cite the Hamas charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

'Involve Hamas'

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert refused to see Mr Carter, as he ended his regional visit in Jerusalem.

Jeremy Paxman interviews Jimmy Carter on Hamas

In a speech in the city, Mr Carter said Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking had "regressed" since the US hosted Middle East talks in November at Annapolis.

He defended his talks with Mr Meshaal in Damascus.

"The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with someone who must be involved," he told the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

Israel, the US and the European Union regard Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, as a terrorist organisation.

Asked how progress could be made given Israeli views of Hamas, Mr Carter said in an interview with the BBC's Newsnight that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) had been classified as a terrorist organisation before becoming a negotiator for peace.

"I think that there is always a chance to change the characterisation of dissident or rebel groups and my hope is that this brief encounter with them will lead to that conclusion," he said.

Captured soldier

Mr Carter also said the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas and other militant groups during a raid into Israel two years ago, was being held up by the lack of direct communication between Israel and Hamas.

Mr Carter said the difficulty was in agreeing the identity of the Palestinian prisoners to be released in return.

He said Egyptian officials had told him that Israel had agreed to release 1,000 prisoners but accepted only 71 names on a list of hundreds of prisoners submitted by Hamas.

Khaled Meshaal told reporters on Monday that Hamas had agreed to pass a message from Corp Shalit to his family.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army has launched a formal investigation into the death of a Reuters cameraman killed in the Gaza Strip last week.

And two Palestinians died in Israeli air strikes in the territory on Monday: one person in the southern city of Rafah and a Hamas militant at Beit Hanoun, a border town from where rockets are often fired at Israel.

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