Text size

Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal on Friday told the Sydney Morning Herald that Israel should show more flexibility in the face of Hamas demands in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, or otherwise risk more of its troops being abducted by Hamas.

Shalit was kidnapped by militants in the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas, in a cross-border raid in 2006. Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, some of them directly involved in the murder of Israeli citizens, from Israeli prisons in return for Shalit's freedom.

In the interview with the Australian daily conducted from Meshal's bunker south of Damascus, the Hamas leader called on U.S. President Barack Obama to radically modify American foreign policy in the Middle East. In light of his predecessor's "failure in the region," Meshal pleaded that Washington not leave the Middle East peace process solely in the hands of regional players, stressing that only the U.S. could affect any real change in Israel's policies.

"We're willing to open a new page with the U.S. and Europe," Meshal was quoted by the Herald as saying. "Obama will continue to repeat the mistakes of those who went before him unless there is a marked change."

The Hamas leader expanded on the organization's desire to open a "new page," but did not mean that Hamas will do the opening, but rather that Hamas required the U.S. and the European Union to open a new page with the Islamists.

"I don't mean that Hamas will take a new [policy] position. I'm talking about a readiness on our part to deal with Washington and Europe. But they have to be serious about dealing with us on Palestinian rights," he was quoted as saying.

Meshal stressed in the interview his view that the West must abandon its decision to isolate Hamas until the Islamist group succumbs to the dictates of the West in terms of its relations with Israel, saying "They've been trying the wrong way and the wrong approach."

He criticized Obama's appointment of special Mideast envoy George Mitchell, who has already visited the region twice since his appointment, saying the appointment could have no more than a minor affect, because he is not authorized to speak with Hamas. "Would he have succeeded in Belfast if he was ordered to ignore the IRA?" Meshal asked the Herald interviewer.

Meshal also criticized Mitchell's colleague, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, over her repeated warnings to the world to keep donations meant for the rebuilding of Gaza, following Israel's three-week offensive, out of the "wrong hands."

"Despite all this, Hamas has advanced and grown, [so] within the logic of real politick, it is Washington that must reconsider its position if they want to achieve an outcome that is not failure," the Hamas leader concluded.