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World News

Hamas leader welcomes Obama's "new language" - report

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal attends a meeting with parliament members from Greece and Italy in Damascus March 18, 2009. U.S. President Barack Obama is using a "new language" in relations with the Middle East and an official overture towards Hamas is only a matter of time, Meshaal said in a newspaper interview. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

ROME (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is using a “new language” in relations with the Middle East and an official overture towards Hamas is only a matter of time, the Islamist group’s leader Khaled Meshaal said in a newspaper interview.

“A new language towards the region is coming from President Obama. The challenge for everybody is for this to be the prelude for a genuine change in U.S. and European policies. Regarding an official opening towards Hamas, it’s a matter of time,” Meshaal told Italian daily La Repubblica in an interview published on Sunday.

The newspaper said Meshaal was reacting to Obama’s offer of better ties with Iran, Hamas’s main backer along with Syria.

However, in the interview, Meshaal made no direct reference to Obama’s videotaped overture on Friday, nor to Iran’s response.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Saturday Obama’s offer of a “new beginning” between the two foes was just a “slogan”, but pledged Tehran would respond to any real policy shift by Washington.

Meshaal said Israel’s 22-day offensive in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in December and January had not dented Hamas’s influence.

“The great powers need us in order to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Our weight in the Palestinian problem comes from us being rooted in the society, in the population, which voted for us and will do it again,” he said.

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