Hamas leader fails to address British lawmakers

LONDON (AP) âÄî An attempt by the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas to make an unprecedented video link address to British lawmakers failed Wednesday following a technical glitch. Khaled Mashaal, who is living in exile in Syria, had hoped to address a group of parliamentarians as part of a campaign to persuade the West to talk to his party as it seeks peace in the Middle East. Event organizers had hoped the session could help persuade the U.S. and European governments to review their policy toward Hamas, but were unable to speak to Mashaal when a video link failed. Claire Short, an independent lawmaker and former Labour Cabinet minister who had tried to arrange the feed, said she would invite Mashaal to address a future meeting in the same way. About 25 members of the House of Commons and House of Lords had gathered for the session, which was criticized by Britain’s Foreign Office and Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Britain, along with the United States and the European Union, regards Hamas as a terrorist organization and refuses to hold talks with the group. Hamas has held power in the Gaza Strip since 2007, when it violently seized control and expelled forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who still governs the West Bank. “Hamas is a terrorist organization. They fire rockets at innocent civilians. They put ordinary Palestinians in harm’s way,” Britain’s Middle East minister, Bill Rammell, said in a statement. “We believe that to talk to Hamas directly at this time would simply undermine those Palestinians who are committed to peace.” Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said it was “regrettably ironic that a man who could never receive an entry visa to Britain because he is considered a terrorist would have the privilege to address MPs in Parliament, thanks to new technologies.” British officials said Mashaal would almost certainly be refused entry if he attempted to visit in person. Responding to Mashaal’s plan to appeal for a new dialogue, several European governments said Tuesday they had no plans to open contacts with Hamas. The U.K., Germany and Italy said there would be no change in policy until Hamas renounced violence and recognized Israel’s right to exist. But a group of six British lawmakers who met with Mashaal last month in Syria said talks with Hamas could be crucial to winning a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. “Anyone who genuinely wants to see peace in the Middle East ought to listen to what he has to say, and engage with him âÄî he is a powerful figure” said Lynne Jones, a lawmaker with Britain’s governing Labour Party who traveled to Syria. British lawmakers have stepped up pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government after it opted last month to reach out to the political wing of the militant group Hezbollah. London cut contact with the group in 2005 and listed its military arm as a terrorist organization. But British officials have begun meetings with Hezbollah lawmakers aimed at encouraging the group to shun violence. A channel of the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera satellite channel that is reserved for live satellite broadcasts from various countries carried a broadcast that appeared to be the one Mashaal had intended to give British lawmakers. Addressing his comments to British parliamentarians, Mashaal thanked Short and asked for Europe to play a key role in the peace process. ___ Associated Press Writers Sam F. Ghattas in Beirut Rachel Nolan in Berlin contributed to this report.