Hamas backs reconciliation but rejects pressure

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Saturday the Islamist group supported reconciliation among Palestinians provided there was no external pressure and all issues were discussed.

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Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa said last week he was angry with Palestinian groups for divisions and that sanctions against them were being discussed by Arab governments.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 when it routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces.

“Do not back Hamas into a corner,” Meshaal said at a late night celebratory event in the Syrian capital Damascus to mark the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

“Pressure and siege have been tried against Hamas and Hamas remained steadfast. We are for national reconciliation as long as it is conducted without external pressures and for a dialogue that puts all the issues on the table,” he said.

Egypt, main mediator between Palestinian groups, has been holding bilateral talks with minor factions in preparation for similar negotiations between major players Hamas and Fatah, both of which differ on peace talks with Israel.

Hamas has been the subject of Western sanctions and what it terms an illegal Israeli siege of Gaza backed by Washington.

“Hamas is on the side of its Arab brothers. It is unfair to blame the Palestinians for the schism and (ignore) the U.S. and Israeli role,” said Meshaal, who lives in exile in Syria.

He said a presidential election must be held before Abbas’s term expired in January and that Hamas would respect the result.

In 2007, Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led Palestinian government and appointed a new administration in the occupied West Bank where his Fatah group holds sway.

Editing by Ralph Gowling