Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, taken hostage by Palestinian militants in June 2006, was alive and being treated well. He also invited Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to Gaza for talks.
Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal invited Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to Gaza for unconditional talks on the two factions' divisions, in a television interview Monday.
He also told British broadcaster Sky News that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Palestinian militants in June 2006, is still alive and being treated well.
"We invite Mr Mahmud Abbas to come to Gaza to talk directly without any conditions... to work together to find a solution to the problems in Gaza and the West Bank," Meshaal said, speaking from an undisclosed location in Damascus.
The aim of the talks would be "get back our Palestinian union and find the reasons for our problems and to solve the security problem," he added.
The invitation comes after rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Abbas's Fatah reached a Yemeni-brokered deal on March 23 to open their first direct talks since the Islamists seized control of the Gaza Strip nine months ago.
But within hours of signing that agreement, the two bitter rivals bickered over its meaning, with Hamas focusing on the first part of the statement while Fatah highlighted the second as a precondition for any talks.
And the day after the deal was struck, a senior Israeli official warned Abbas against striking a reconciliation deal with Hamas, saying it would effectively sink faltering Middle East peace talks.
The Hamas seizure of Gaza effectively split the Palestinian territories into two separate entities with the Islamists controlling the impoverished coastal strip and Abbas ruling the occupied West Bank.
Israel considers Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state, a terror group and refuses to have any direct dealings with it.
On Shalit, Meshaal said: "Gilad is still alive and we are treating him in a good way while the Israelis treat our prisoners badly and everyone knows that."
Shalit was seized on June 25, 2006 from an army base near Gaza by militants from three groups including Hamas, which evicted Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah group from the territory in a week of bloody clashes last June.
Last April, Hamas sent to Israel, through Egypt, a list of 450 prisoners it wanted freed in exchange for Shalit.
But an Israeli official said at the time that many of the Palestinian prisoners had "blood on their hands," meaning they had been involved in attacks that killed Israelis, and could not be released.
A senior Hamas leader, Mahmud al-Zahar, warned earlier this month that Shalit would only be released if all of the group's demands were met.
Also in the interview, Meshaal said Israel was the "problem" in reaching a deal to "let the civilian people from the two sides be free from our conflict."
He described rocket attacks into Israel as "an ordinary reaction towards the Israeli occupation" and said that while Hamas did not deny the Holocaust, "we believe the Zionists have exaggerated the numbers to get sympathy from other nations."
Date created : 2008-03-31