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Hamas official says group would lay down its weapons if a two-state solution is implemented

ISTANBUL (AP) — A senior Hamas politician tells The Associated Press that the Islamic militant group is willing to agree to a truce of five years or more with Israel and will lay down its arms and transform into a political party if an independent Palestinian state is established along the pre-1967 borders.

Khalil al-Hayya’s comments in an interview Wednesday came amid a stalemate in months of ceasefire talks. The suggestion that Hamas would disarm appeared to be a significant concession from the militant group officially committed to the destruction of Israel.

But Israel is unlikely to consider such a scenario. It pledged to crush Hamas after the deadly October 7 attacks that sparked the war, and its current leaders are adamantly opposed to creating a Palestinian state on land captured by Israel in the Middle East war. Orient from 1967.

Al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official who represented Palestinian militants in negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage exchange, struck a tone that was sometimes defiant and sometimes conciliatory.

Speaking to the AP in Istanbul, Al-Hayya said Hamas wanted to join the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by the rival Fatah faction, to form a unified government for Gaza and the West Bank. He said Hamas would accept “a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with international resolutions” along Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

If that happens, he said, the group’s military wing would disband.

“All the experiences of the people who fought against the occupiers, when they became independent and obtained their rights and their state, what did these forces do? They transformed into political parties and their defending fighting forces transformed into a national army,” he said.

Over the years, Hamas has at times moderated its public stance on the possibility of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But its political program still “officially rejects any alternative to the total liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea”, referring to the area stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which includes the lands that constitute Israel today. .

Al-Hayya did not clarify whether its apparent embrace of a two-state solution would amount to an end to the Palestinian conflict with Israel or an interim step toward the group’s stated goal of destroying Israel.

There was no immediate reaction from Israel or the Palestinian Authority, the internationally recognized autonomous government that Hamas ousted when it seized Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections. . After Hamas took control of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority was left administering semi-autonomous pockets of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority hopes to establish an independent state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza – areas conquered by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. While the international community overwhelmingly supports such a two-state solution, the hard-line government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects it.

The war in Gaza has lasted almost seven months and ceasefire negotiations have stalled. The war began with the deadly October 7 attack in southern Israel, in which Hamas-led militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The militants dragged some 250 hostages into the enclave. Israeli bombings and the subsequent ground offensive in Gaza killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to local health authorities, and displaced about 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents. Gaza.

Israel is currently preparing for an offensive in the southern city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have fled.

Israel says it has dismantled most of Hamas’s original two dozen battalions since the start of the war, but that the remaining four battalions are entrenched in Rafah. Israel says an offensive on Rafah is necessary to achieve victory over Hamas.

Al-Hayya said such an offensive would fail to destroy Hamas. He said contacts between political leaders outside and military leaders inside Gaza are “uninterrupted” by the war and that “contacts, decisions and guidance are taken in consultation” between the two. groups.

Israeli forces “did not destroy more than 20% of (Hamas’) capabilities, neither human nor on the ground,” he said. “If they can’t end Hamas, what’s the solution? to consensus. »

In November, a week-long ceasefire allowed the release of more than 100 hostages in exchange for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. But negotiations for a longer-term truce and the release of the remaining hostages are now frozen, with each side accusing the other of intransigence. Qatar, a key interlocutor, declared in recent days that it was undertaking a “reassessment” of its role as mediator.

Most of Hamas’s top politicians, previously based in Qatar, left the Gulf country last week and traveled to Turkey, where Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday. Al-Hayya denied that a permanent move of the group’s main political office was in the works and said Hamas wanted to see Qatar continue to play its role as mediator in the talks.

Israeli and American officials have accused Hamas of not taking a deal seriously.

Al-Hayya denied this, saying Hamas had made concessions on the number of Palestinian prisoners it wanted to release in exchange for the remaining Israeli hostages. He added that the group does not know exactly how many hostages remain in Gaza and are still alive.

But he said Hamas would not back down on its demands for a permanent ceasefire and complete withdrawal of Israeli troops, which Israel has opposed. Israel says it will continue its military operations until Hamas is definitively defeated and will then maintain a security presence in Gaza.

“If we are not assured that the war will end, why should I hand over the prisoners? » the Hamas leader said of the remaining hostages.

Al-Hayya also implicitly threatened that Hamas would attack Israeli or other forces that may be stationed around a floating pier that the United States is working to build along the Gaza coast to deliver aid by sea. maritime.

“We categorically reject any non-Palestinian presence in Gaza, whether at sea or on land, and we will treat any military force present there, Israeli or otherwise… as an occupying power,” he said.

Al-Hayya said Hamas does not regret the October 7 attacks, despite the destruction they inflicted on Gaza and its population. He denied that Hamas militants targeted civilians in these attacks – despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary – and said the operation had achieved its goal of bringing the Palestinian issue back to world attention.

And, he added, Israeli attempts to eradicate Hamas will ultimately fail to prevent future Palestinian armed uprisings.

“Let’s say they destroyed Hamas. Are the Palestinian people gone?” He asked.


AP journalist Khalil Hamra in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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