The Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said yesterday his government was willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. He spoke at a meeting with 11 European parliamentarians who sailed from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip to protest Israel's naval blockade of the territory. Haniyeh told his guests Israel rejected his initiative.

Clare Short, who served in the cabinet of former British prime minister Tony Blair, asked Haniyeh to repeat his offer. He said the Hamas government had agreed to accept a Palestinian state that followed the 1967 borders and to offer Israel a long-term hudna, or truce, if Israel recognized the Palestinians' national rights.

In response to a question about the international community's impression that there are two Palestinian states, Haniyeh said: "We don't have a state, neither in Gaza nor in the West Bank. Gaza is under siege and the West Bank is occupied. What we have in the Gaza Strip is not a state, but rather a regime of an elected government. A Palestinian state will not be created at this time except in the territories of 1967."

The parliamentary delegation was led by Baron Nazir Ahmed, who was born in Pakistan and is a member of the British House of Lords. Ahmed, Britain's second Muslim peer and the only one born Muslim, related how, 10 years ago, he was sworn into the House of Lords using a Koran. "And now you represent us," Haniyeh told him yesterday.

Ahmed asked Haniyeh about Hamas' relations with Iran and requested his response to the claims of "our Zionist friends" that Hamas, like Iran, seeks to destroy the State of Israel and throw the Jews into the sea.

"Our ties with Iran are like those with other Muslim states. Does a besieged people that is waiting breathlessly for a ship to come from the sea want to throw the Jews into the ocean? Our conflict is not with the Jews, our problem is with the occupation," Haniyeh said.

The protest boat Dignity anchored at Gaza port yesterday morning, carrying nine MPs from Britain and Ireland, one from Switzerland and one from Italy. The parliamentarians sought to express their opposition to the Gaza blockade and see for themselves its effect on Gaza's population. The 11 were among a few dozen members of European parliaments who about two weeks ago were refused entrance to Gaza at the Rafah crossing by Egyptian officials.

This was the Dignity's third voyage from Cyprus to Gaza in 10 days, and the third time in three months the Free Gaza Movement organized a protest sail and visit to Gaza.

The peak of the group's first day in Gaza was their meeting with Haniyeh at his official guesthouse in Gaza City's exclusive Rimal area - formerly the guesthouse of Yasser Arafat. The two-hour meeting was a good-natured affair, at the end of which the parliamentarians noted their host's pleasant manner.

"Your visit proves that the Palestinian people is not alone in its struggle against the blockade and that many of the peoples of the free and cultured world support us," Haniyeh told his guests.

He explained to them why Hamas boycotted the talks with Fatah that were scheduled to begin today in Cairo. "We had 17 political detainees [from Fatah, held without trial and without being charged] being held in harsh conditions - I'm not proud of that," Haniyeh said. "They were released. We expected a similar measure from our brothers in Ramallah, but unfortunately the situation only worsened ahead of the meeting in Cairo."

According to Haniyeh, about 400 Hamas activists are being held in Palestinian Authority jails in the West Bank, and all requests to release them have fallen on deaf ears.

Haniyeh said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' statements to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit prove that the United States won't allow the two Palestinian factions to reach a reconciliation. He said the PA must shake off the "American fist" gripping it.

The European politicians took with them a ton of medical supplies and three medical scanners used for spinal injuries, said Arafat Shoukri, 37, a doctor based in Britain.

"We are taking very basic medical supplies like paracetamol and painkillers. We were shocked when we got the list from the Health Ministry in Gaza - it means they don't have anything," Shoukri said.

International aid agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, have said virtually no medical supplies were reaching Gaza.