GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A senior Hamas leader says the group is willing to talk directly to Israel, reversing a previous ban.
In an interview with Al Quds TV to be broadcast later Thursday, Hamas No. 2 Musa Abu Marzouk says "Hamas is willing to talk directly to the Israelis" over issues including Gaza border crossings and prisoner releases.
"Just as you negotiate with weapons you can also negotiate by talk," he said in a tape of the interview obtained by The Associated Press. "Up till now our policy was no negotiation with (Israel), but others should be aware that this issue is not taboo."
His comments come two weeks after the end of a bloody war in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas has run since 2007. Over the weekend the group came in for criticism from Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, putting further pressure on it after the heavy losses it sustained during the fighting.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said he would not comment until Abu Marzouk's remarks are broadcast.
Israel has consistently said it will not talk directly to Hamas until the Islamic militant group recognizes its right to exist and renounces violence.
During the interview Abu Marzouk gave no indication that Hamas was considering taking such steps. Rather, he insisted the reason for the change in policy reflected growing tensions with Abbas, whom Hamas believes is trying to reclaim control of Gaza.
"Hamas finds itself compelled to make this move when the natural rights of the people in Gaza come under pressure from the Palestinian Authority and the government," he said.
Israel and Hamas have held several rounds of indirect negotiations through Egyptian mediators in recent years, mainly over prisoner exchanges and cease-fire agreements.