July 18, 2007 / 3:05 PM / in 12 years

Hamas has contacts with al Qaeda: French minister

PARIS (Reuters) - Palestinian militant group Hamas has contacts with al Qaeda, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Wednesday, adding that this was not the result of Western pressure to isolate the movement.

Kouchner was reacting to comments by Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema this week, who said the West’s policy of isolating Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip last month, could push it into the arms of al Qaeda.

“I think Hamas did not wait for this extreme situation — the current terrible situation in Gaza — to have contacts with al Qaeda. And it would perhaps be too simple to think that we, the international community, are responsible,” Kouchner said.

Kouchner, who was speaking at a news conference, did not elaborate.

The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, has denied that al Qaeda is present there. “There is no al Qaeda in the Gaza Strip and talk of Gaza becoming a foothold for al Qaeda is an invitation to international hostilities,” Haniyeh told Reuters in a recent interview.

An Israeli blockade has tightened around Gaza’s population of 1.5 million since Hamas seized the territory.

The United Nations and World Bank have warned of economic and humanitarian disaster if trade routes are not reopened, but Israel and the West insist they will shun Hamas while it refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist and to renounce violence.

In quotes reported in Italian media on Tuesday and confirmed by his spokesman, D’Alema said sidelining Hamas, which won a January 2006 election despite being classed as a “terrorist” group by the West, did not set a good example of democracy.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed a Hamas-led government after the group seized control of the Gaza Strip.

“I often agree with my friend Massimo D’Alema. Here I do not,” Kouchner told reporters.

“But I take the issue raised by Massimo very seriously. We must not leave the Palestinians in this situation in Gaza. That is sure, he’s right there. Now let’s not accuse the West of being responsible for the link that extremist organizations maintain among themselves,” he added.

“The policy, if it were to continue, of isolating the Palestinian population in Gaza, is indeed a serious risk,” Kouchner said.

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