PARIS (Reuters) - Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Monday the United States had no right to kill Osama bin Laden but said this did not mean the Palestinian Islamist group supported al Qaeda’s attacks on civilians.
Speaking on France 24 television, the Damascus-based Meshaal also said there should be more freedom in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has deployed his armed forces to crush a seven-week-old revolt against his authoritarian rule.
“Concerning bin Laden everyone knows Hamas has differences from al Qaeda ... especially (its) operations targeting civilians, but all this doesn’t give the U.S. the right to kill as they please without any regard for the law and to assassinate Arabs and Muslims, blaming everything on them and accusing them of terrorism,” Meshaal said in the France 24 interview.
During the height of a Palestinian uprising between 2000 and 2005, Hamas carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israeli towns and it is classified by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist group.
Questions about the bin Laden killing have multiplied since the White House said that he was unarmed when U.S. commandos shot dead the al Qaeda leader on Monday in the walled villa where he had been hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.
“The fact they disposed of his body at sea is unacceptable and has touched the dignity of Muslims,” Meshaal said, speaking through an interpreter.
Meshaal, who lives in exile in Syria’s capital while Hamas runs Gaza, took a cautious stance on events in Syria but called for more democracy.
“We want to see more stability, prosperity and a stronger government that responds to the people’s aspirations,” he said.
“(We want) more freedom and democracy in order to serve the interests of the people and reach a model between the regime and the people and help strengthen the country against external aggression.”
Hamas won a Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006.
Meshaal was speaking in Cairo after attending a ceremony hosted by Egypt that formally ended four years of strife between Hamas and its more secular Palestinian rival Fatah, an accord aimed at advancing the Palestinians’ goal of statehood in territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
He urged the United States and the European Union to support the reconciliation deal -- both are wary because of Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violence -- but warned the Jewish state that if it continued to imprison Palestinians, Hamas would not free Israeli soldiers.
Israeli efforts to secure Gilad Shalit, a soldier who vanished during a Hamas raid into Gaza in 2006, have stalled, Meshaal said, blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu is responsible for the delay in his release... we hope negotiations will start again and I hope Netanyahu will not force us to kidnap other Israeli soldiers,” he said.
Netanyahu is under growing domestic pressure to secure Shalit’s release and meet Hamas demands to swap Shalit for imprisoned Palestinian militants charged with masterminding lethal bombings inside Israel over the past decade.
“If the only way to release our prisoners is the imprisonment of more Israeli soldiers then Israeli authorities and Netanyahu will have to bear the consequences of not having released our Palestinian prisoners,” said Meshaal.