Page last updated at 16:26 GMT, Sunday, 22 March 2009

Hamas chief hails Obama approach

Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, 18 March 2009
Khaled Meshaal said the great powers needed Hamas

The political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has credited US President Barack Obama with using a "new language" for the Middle East.

Speaking to an Italian newspaper Mr Meshaal also said that an official opening to his Palestinian Islamist movement was only "a matter of time".

The interview was published three days after President Obama called for a "new beginning" in relations with Iran.

Iran and Syria, where Mr Meshaal is exiled, are key backers of Hamas.

Mr Obama's video message to the Iranian leaders and people was seen as a major break with previous US policy.

But in response, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded concrete policy changes from the US.

'Roots in society'

Mr Meshaal, speaking in an interview with La Repubblica, said "a new language towards the region is coming from President Obama".

He did not directly mention Mr Obama's message to Iran.

"The challenge for everybody is for this to be the prelude for a genuine change in US and European policies," Mr Meshaal said.

"Regarding an official opening towards Hamas, it's a matter of time."

The US, EU and UN will not deal with Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip in 2007, unless they reject violence and recognise Israel.

Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of Israel, although the group has also offered a long-term truce if Israel withdraws to its pre-5 June 1967 borders.

"The great powers need us to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict," Mr Meshaal told La Repubblica.

"Our weight in resolving the Palestinian question stems from our roots in society, in the people who have voted for us and who will do so again."

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