DAMASCUS Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal denounced on Thursday an Israeli offer of a demilitarized Palestinian state as a "big prison" and said only armed struggle could restore Palestinian rights.
In a speech this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the U.S. goal of a Palestinian state but said it should be demilitarized and the Palestinians must accept Israel as a Jewish nation.
"The state that Netanyahu talked about, with control on it by land, sea and air, is a freak entity and a big prison, not a country fit for a great people," Meshaal said in a speech in the Syrian capital to supporters of Hamas, which won Palestinian elections in 2006.
Meshaal said the notion of an exclusive Jewish nation was anathema to the Palestinians because it means giving up what he described as the right of six million Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland in what is now Israel.
"We warn against any Arab leniency on this issue. The calls by the leaders of the enemy for the Jewishness of Israel are racist, not different to Italian Fascism and Hitler's Nazism," said Meshaal, who lives in exile in Syria.
His speech also aimed to reply to the June 4 speech by U.S. President Barack Obama to the Muslim world in which he re-affirmed the U.S. objective of a Palestinian state alongside Israel on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.
Obama also wants a halt to all Israeli settlement building, a point of disagreement between him and Netanyahu.
Meshaal said Hamas appreciated what he termed Obama's new language, which could be the start of an "unconditional dialogue" between Washington and the Palestinian Islamist group.
"Dealing with Hamas and Palestinian resistance movements must be based on respecting the will of the Palestinian people and its democratic choice, not through putting conditions, such as those of the quartet," he said.
He was referring to the demands of the United States, Russia the United Nations and the European Union for Hamas to renounce armed struggle, as well as accept past peace agreements.
Hamas, which took control of the Gaza strip in 2007 after routing forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly rejected these conditions.
Meshaal also repeated the Hamas line of calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.
"The minimum we accept is a Palestinian state with (East) Jerusalem as its capital, full sovereignty, removal of settlements and the refugees' right of return," he said.
He said Hamas, which is mainly supported by Syria and Iran, sees no alternative but to continue armed struggle to liberate Palestinian land after decades of Israel flouting international resolutions to withdraw.
"There is no alternative," Meshaal said. "Peaceful resistance works for a civil rights struggle, not in front of an occupation armed to the teeth."
(Editing by Charles Dick)