Hamas Leader Says Group Would Consider Talks With Israel

A senior leader of the Islamic militant group, Hamas, says his organization would consider talks with Israel. Israeli officials have dismissed the comment as a move to win support ahead of Palestinian elections in January.

In a rare interview with Israel radio, Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, says Hamas would consider negotiations with Israel, as a means to liberate Palestinian lands and get Hamas militants released from Israeli custody.

"To rebuild our infrastructure if that means that we are ready to speak to the east or to the west we are ready," he said. "Negotiation is our strategic goal this is one of the methods to achieve our strategic goal."

Mahmoud Zahar says he believes the chances of any talks are minimal but that there could be a better climate for talks after Palestinian parliamentary elections scheduled for January 25.

This is not the first time Hamas militants have said talks with Israeli officials could take place, but previously it was only Hamas activists in the West Bank that made such comments. Mahmoud Zahar's comments are the first by any Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, where the organization is considered to be more militant.

Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom wasted no time on Wednesday, dismissing the Hamas leader's comments.

Mr. Shalom says the comments by the Hamas leader were an attempt to subdue international pressure on the organization, and gain support among Palestinians before the January polls.

Hamas has sworn to bring about Israel's destruction and both Israel and the United States consider the organization to be a terrorist group. U.S. officials have urged Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas to do more to disarm Palestinian militant groups like Hamas, but they stopped short of endorsing Israel's desire to exclude Hamas candidates from taking part in January's vote. Earlier this week Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would not facilitate Palestinian elections because Hamas was participating in them.