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Hamas to soften stance on Israel, Muslim Brotherhood: Arab sources

News 01 May 2017

left right FILE PHOTO: Hamas militants hold weapons as they celebrate the release of Palestinian prisoner Mohammed al-Bashiti, who served 12 years in an Israeli jail after he was convicted of being a member of Hamas' armed wing, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/File Photo 1/5 left right FILE PHOTO: Palestinian members of Hamas' armed wing take part in the funeral of senior militant Mazen Fuqaha in Gaza City March 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo 2/5 left right FILE PHOTO: Palestinian members of Hamas' armed wing take part in the funeral of senior militant Mazen Fuqaha in Gaza City March 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo 3/5 left right FILE PHOTO – Palestinian members of Hamas's armed wing take part in the funeral of a senior militant in Gaza City March 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo 4/5 left right FILE PHOTO – A Palestinian waves a Hamas flag (R) in Gaza City August 26, 2014. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem/File Photo 5/5 By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Tom Finn | GAZA/DOHA

GAZA/DOHA The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas will drop its longstanding call for Israel's destruction as well as its association with the Muslim Brotherhood in a new policy document to be issued on Monday, Gulf Arab sources said.

Hamas's move appears aimed at improving relations with Gulf Arab states and Egypt, which label the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, and mending a rift with the main Palestinian faction headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.

It comes two days before Abbas is due in Washington, and days after President Donald Trump told Reuters he may travel to Israel this month and sees no reason whatsoever why there should not be peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

But the document, to be announced later on Monday, will still reject Israel's right to exist and back "armed struggle" against it, the Gulf Arab sources told Reuters.

Israel rejected the reported shift, calling it an attempt by Hamas to delude the world that it was becoming a more moderate group.

"Hamas is attempting to fool the world but it will not succeed," said David Keyes, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "They dig terror tunnels and have launched thousands upon thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians," he said. "This is the real Hamas."

DECADES OF CONFLICT

Founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, the banned Egyptian Islamist movement, Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2007 and has carried out hundreds of armed attacks in Israel and in Israeli-occupied territories.

Many Western countries classify it as a terrorist group over its failure to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and accept existing interim Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements.

The Gulf Arab sources said Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, will say in the document that it agrees to a transitional Palestinian state along the borders from 1967, when Israel captured Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a war with Arab states. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

A state along 1967 borders is the goal of Hamas' main political rival, the Fatah movement led by Abbas. His Palestinian Authority has engaged in peace talks with Israel on that basis, although the last, U.S.-mediated round collapsed three years ago.

It remained unclear whether the document replaces or changes in any way Hamas's 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction and is the Islamist group's covenant.

A Hamas spokesman in Qatar declined to comment. There was no immediate comment from Egypt and Gulf Arab states.

"For Hamas… it's a signal of their desire to align with conservative Sunni elements in the region and create some immunity," said Beverley Milton-Edwards, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre and author of a book on Hamas.

But she said while the document could strengthen Hamas's position in the Palestinian Territories and the Middle East, it would "unlikely lead to any definitive swing in opinion against them in the U.S. or even Europe."

U.S.-allied Arab states including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia classify the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The 89-year-old Brotherhood held power in Egypt for a year after a popular uprising in 2011, but was then removed by the army after mass street protests.

The Brotherhood denies links with Islamist militants and advocates Islamist political parties winning power through elections, which Saudi Arabia considers a threat to its system of absolute power through inherited rule.

(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Tom Finn; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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