Steve Gutterman
February 8, 2010 - 1:00am

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal on Monday accused the United States of undermining Palestinian unity efforts and said he saw no chance for peace in the Middle East under Israel's current leadership.

Shunned in the West because his Islamist group refuses to recognise Israel -- a position he said stands -- Meshaal used a hospitable Russia as a platform to blame Washington and Israel's hardline government for a lack of progress.

His remarks underscored barriers on the road to Palestinian reconciliation and to renewing Middle East peace talks.

Hamas wants a reconciliation deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' rival Fatah movement "as fast as possible", Meshaal told a news conference after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who invited him to Moscow.

"Unfortunately, there are a whole series of hurdles to a swift reconciliation, first of all external influence and concerted pressure from the United States," he said, which he said was using "various means" to scuttle the efforts.

Meshaal did not elaborate, but said portions of an Egyptian-drafted reconciliation deal had been changed without consultation with Hamas and that the group would not sign it unless they were restored.

Hamas has sought an Egyptian guarantee that the outcome of a Palestinian election expected in June be respected. Hamas won a parliamentary election in 2006 but has not been recognised as the dominant party since its split with Fatah. It seized control of the Gaza Strip a year later in fighting with Fatah forces.


Meshaal blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what Hamas has called a collapse of indirect talks to exchange captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for some of the more than 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

"The reason is the game Netanyahu is playing," Meshaal said through an interpreter.

Israel has demanded that dozens of Palestinians imprisoned after being convicted of involvement in lethal attacks be deported upon their release.

Meshaal, though not a party to any U.S.-brokered diplomacy, said: "I don't see any prospects on the Palestinian, the Syrian or any other track of the Middle East process because the Israeli leadership is a leadership of war, aggression and occupation."

He accused Washington of retracting demands on Israel and charged Europe had been unable to make Israel abide by commitments.

Meshaal praised Russia, hosting him for a second official visit since 2007.

The United States considers Hamas, which has Syrian and Iranian backing, a terrorist group, but Russia says it should not be isolated.

Russia has worked to build on ties with Moscow's Cold War allies in the Middle East while also cultivating improved relations with Israel. It provided a platform for Meshaal but offered no vocal sign of support on Monday.

Along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, Russia is part of the "quartet" seeking peace in the Middle East. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)


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