Hamas accepts proposal for peace talks with Israel: Arab officials
The Hamas-led Palestinian government agreed Sunday to take part in a proposed international peace conference with Israel, Arab League officials said, despite Hamas' repeated calls for the Jewish state's destruction.
Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas endorsed a statement by Arab foreign ministers on Sunday during a meeting in Cairo, which called for the peace conference, diplomats said following the meeting.
The diplomats spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The endorsement was the first time Hamas, which has refused to recognize Israel and renounce violence against the Jewish state, has indicated it would consider making amends with Israeli officials.
"The ministers call to convene a peace conference attended by Arab parties, Israel and the permanent members of the UN Security Council in order to reach a just and comprehensive settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict on all tracks according to international resolutions and the principle of 'land for peace,'" the Arab League statement said.
Conference 'doesn't make Hamas legitimate': Israel
Arabs want Hamas to endorse a 2002 Arab initiative that trades peace with Israel with land gained by the Jewish state in the 1967 Middle East war.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, said he was not aware of the conference proposal, but said Hamas could not be a party to talks with Israel unless it met the international community's stipulations that it recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
"A multilateral conference doesn't make Hamas legitimate," Regev said. "What makes Hamas legitimate is accepting the international benchmarks."
Sunday was the first time Zahar had attended an Arab foreign ministers' meeting since Hamas became the ruling Palestinian party earlier this year.
The Arab League had previously refused to let him join his counterparts unless Hamas accepted the peace initiative.
Aid restored in response to U.S. veto
Arab ministers also decided on Sunday to end a financial blockade on the Palestinians in response to a U.S. veto to a UN Security Council draft resolution condemning Israel's deadly military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
On Saturday, the U.S. vetoed the Security Council draft resolution that condemned the Israeli military offensive that has killed more 50 people recently and demanded that Israeli troops pull out of the territory.
In an effort to pressure Hamas to moderate its violent anti-Israel ideology, hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid and tax revenues was cut off to the Palestinians after the militant group took power in March.
It has sparked clashes between Hamas and its rival Fatah movement, as well as violent protests by Palestinian police over the government's inability to pay their salaries.