A senior British official on Wednesday called on the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas to reject violence, during a visit to Damascus where the group’s leader is based in exile.
"Hamas needs to move tangibly, in terms of rejection of violence," Bill Rammell, a minister of state at Britain’s Foreign Office, said after talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
"I would like to talk to Hamas but we need change before engaging in that position," he added.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said London had authorized talks with the political wing of Lebanon’s Shiite group, Hezbollah, but not with the group’s military branch.
Rammell said the situation was different with Hamas. "Hezbollah is sitting in government with others parties peacefully. The situation is different with Hamas," he said.
Although Hamas was democratically elected by the Palestinians it is branded a ‘terror group’ by the European Union, Israel and the United States.
"Hamas actually expelled its political opponents from Gaza," he said about the Hamas takeover of the coastal strip in June 2007 after deadly fighting with the Fatah faction of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
"I very much regret that fact. I would like to see more Palestinian reconciliation, and I would be able to talk to Hamas but there need to be tangible moves … particularly the rejection of violence before talks."
Hamas and Fatah rivals were on Wednesday holding a new round of reconciliation talks in Egypt aimed at creating a national unity government, after an earlier attempt last month foundered.
In March, a delegation of British MPs led by Clare Short of the governing Labor Party had talks in Damascus with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal.
(Alarabiya.net and AFP)