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Hamas leader sets conditions for truce

Zahar: Israel must withdraw to pre-1967 borders

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar tells CNN that a 'long-term hudna' is possible with Israel.



Shaul Mofaz

GAZA CITY (CNN) -- A leader of Hamas, the militant group that last week became the controlling force in Palestinian politics, laid out a series of conditions Sunday that he said could lead to years of co-existence alongside Israel.

The conditions included Israel's retreating to its pre-1967 borders and releasing Palestinian prisoners.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, the top Hamas official in Gaza, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that a "long-term hudna or long-term truce" is possible. He would not commit to negotiating with Israel and would not say whether recognizing Israel's existence is a long-term possibility. (Watch Hamas leader list Palestinian conditions -- 7:32)

At Israel's Cabinet meeting, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Hamas must renounce violence for his country to negotiate with the new Palestinian leaders. (Full story)

"Israel believes there is great importance in putting together a unified international position that will make clear to the Palestinians that it is impossible, under any circumstances, to accept a Palestinian Authority that part of it or more than that is an armed organization that calls for the destruction of Israel," Olmert said.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz issued a warning to Hamas, saying if the organization resorted to terror attacks, it would be the subject of an "unprecedented attack."

Speaking from Gaza City, Zahar said if Israel "is ready to give us the national demand to withdraw from the occupied area [in] '67; to release our detainees; to stop their aggression; to make geographic link between Gaza Strip and West Bank, at that time, with assurance from other sides, we are going to accept to establish our independent state at that time, and give us one or two, 10, 15 years time in order to see what is the real intention of Israel after that."

"We can accept to establish our independent state on the area occupied [in] '67," he said. Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza in the Six-Day War of 1967.

Zahar did not say how long an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza would be acceptable. Key conditions could allow Palestinians to give a "long-term hudna or long-term truce," and "after that, let time heal," he said.

A "hudna," historically, has referred to a long pause in hostilities, during which armies prepared for later battles.

Will Hamas recognize Israel?

But asked about Hamas' call for Israel's destruction, Zahar would not say whether that remains the goal. "We are not speaking about the future, we are speaking now," he said.

Zahar argued that Israel has no true intention of accepting a Palestinian state, despite international agreements including the Road Map for Middle East peace.

Until Israel says what its final borders will be, Hamas will not say whether it will ever recognize Israel, Zahar said. "If Israel is ready to tell the people what is the official border, after that we are going to answer this question."

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have said final borders must be determined through negotiations.

"Negotiation is not our aim. Negotiation is a method," Zahar said.

Hamas has orchestrated numerous terrorist attacks, killing and wounding scores of civilians -- most, though not all, Israelis. The United States considers Hamas, which also operates an extensive social services network, a terrorist organization.

Asked whether Hamas would renounce terrorism, Zahar argued the definition of terrorism is unfair.

Israel is "killing people and children and removing our agricultural system -- this is terrorism," he said. "When the Americans [are] attacking the Arabic and Islamic world whether in Afghanistan and Iraq and they are playing a dirty game in Lebanon, this is terrorism."

He described Hamas as a "liberating movement."

Ex-leaders called corrupt

Zahar railed against certain Palestinian leaders, whom he said were "deeply corrupted" and misspent money contributed from overseas, including the United States.

The Bush administration has threatened to stop sending millions of dollars to the Palestinians unless the Hamas-led government renounces terrorism. Zahar said the government will use international donations to do reconstruction and build needed institutions. "We are looking for this money, but this money should not be conditioned," he said.

He also said, "We are not taking money from Iran," denying suggestions by Israeli and U.S. officials that there are growing ties between Hamas and Tehran. Iran's president has called for Israel's destruction.

News reports have said Hamas plans to establish separate schools for boys and girls in the Palestinian territories and implement stricter Islamic law. Asked whether he plans a theocracy instead of a secular government, Zahar responded, "Do you think the secular system is ... serving any nation?"

A secular system "allows homosexuality, allows corruption, allows the spread of the loss of natural immunity like AIDS," he said. "We are here living under Islamic control. Nothing will change ... If you are going to give a hint that Islamic society will be against the modern life, I think it's incorrect."

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