March 25, 2007 / 4:44 PM / 11 years ago

Hamas won't oppose Arab peace plan, Palestinian says

(Recasts with new quote, Meshaal leaving)

By Wafa Amr

RIYADH, March 25 (Reuters) - Palestinian group Hamas agreed not to express any opposition to the Arab peace plan with Israel expected to be relaunched at an Arab summit in Riyadh on Wednesday, a senior Palestinian official said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader, will attend the Arab summit together with President Mahmoud Abbas in the Saudi capital on March 28-29.

Saudi Arabia and other U.S.-allied Arab states want to use the summit to revive an initiative offering the Jewish state normal ties with all Arab states in return for full withdrawal from Arab land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel rejected the Arab initiative when it was first floated in 2002 and continues to object to some elements. Hamas had also refused to endorse the proposal after it was launched, though it has since said it will respect all Arab decisions.

"Hamas will not contradict the Arab consensus, but will not voice a position on the Arab initiative," the Palestinian official said, quoting Khaled Meshaal after the Hamas leader held talks with Saudi officials during a brief trip.

Meshaal’s visit was the second to Saudi Arabia in a week ahead of the Arab summit. He met with King Abdullah and other Saudi officials on Tuesday, as part of a tour to drum up support for a new Palestinian unity government led by Hamas.

There was no confirmation in Saudi media or from Hamas officials that Meshaal was in the country.

The Palestinian official, who declined to be identified, said that Saudi Arabia had asked Meshaal last Tuesday to give full support to the initiative and that the Damascus-based leader promised to consider the request.

The Palestinian unity government, which includes Abbas’s Western-backed Fatah, wants the Arab summit to back it in the face of U.S. and Israeli attempts to boycott Hamas cabinet members.

Asked about Hamas’ position, senior Hamas official in Gaza Yahya Moussa told Reuters: "We are committed to the Mecca agreement and we will not enter into interpretations."

Under the Mecca deal signed in the Muslim holy city last month, Hamas agreed to respect past Arab summit resolutions, paving the way for the formation of the unity government.

Hamas officials have welcomed the idea of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem, but reject an explicit recognition of Israel.

A senior Hamas official in Gaza who did not want to be named said the group objected to the Arab initiative’s call for normalisation of relations with Israel, even though it was conditional.

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