BEIRUT (AP) — Hamas has been holding secret political talks with five European Union member states in recent months, a senior official in the Islamic militant group told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
If confirmed, such talks would be a sign that the isolation of the Gaza-based Palestinian movement is easing in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings that have brought Islamists to power in parts of the Middle East.
The EU and the U.S consider Hamas a terror group and refuse to deal with it unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel.
However, the West is reassessing its Mideast policy following the uprisings of the past year that toppled several pro-Western regimes in the region and gave rise to the Hamas parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood.
It appeared possible that some EU member states are now softening their approach toward Hamas.
In an interview Wednesday, Beirut-based Hamas official Osama Hamdan said his group has been talking to government officials from five major EU member states in recent months. He would not list the countries.
"I can say it's an important level (of officials), without defining whether it's junior or senior, and the channels are working," said Hamdan, who handles the group's foreign relations and spoke at a Hamas office in Beirut's southern Dahiya neighborhood. "It's not just a contact. It's channels of talking."
Hamas won Palestinian parliament elections in 2006 and seized control of the Gaza Strip by force a year later. Since then, the West has demanded that the group recognize Israel and renounce violence, in exchange for international acceptance. The Islamists, whose top leaders live outside the Palestinian territories, have largely observed an unofficial truce with Israel in recent years but balk at recognizing Israel.
Hamdan is the first Hamas official to speak publicly and in some detail about purported contacts with Western governments.
In Gaza, three Hamas officials said Britain, France and the Netherlands are among the countries involved in backchannel talks. Two also mentioned Austria, and one added Sweden to the list. The officials said talks have been held in Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomatic contacts.