Diplomat: Hamas Willing To Seek "Solution"

George Baghdadi is CBS News' reporter in Damascus.


(AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi)
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has for the first time indicated a willingness to work toward a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, according to Russian diplomats in the Syrian capital.

Russian diplomats in Damascus tell CBS News that Mashaal, seen at left in a 2008 file photo, indicated to a senior envoy from Moscow a "readiness to contribute in reaching a solution to stop the aggression in Gaza."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday that Israel had accepted an Egyptian-French cease-fire plan for the Gaza Strip, but Hamas officials in Syria told CBS News that they could not agree to the plan because it does not guarantee open border crossings or an end to a crippling blockade.

(Click here for the latest on cease-fire negotiations.)

It was the first time Hamas' senior leader had implied a willingness to order a halt to the rocket attacks that Israel points to as the justification for their assault on Gaza.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose country holds unique sway with the Islamic militant group, met Tuesday with Alexander Sultanov, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's special envoy for Middle Eastern Affairs.

Diplomatic sources said it was Sultanov who met Mashaal.

The diplomats, who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the talks, said, however, that Mashaal also warned he was not prepared to cooperate until Israel agreed to open the border-crossings into the besieged Gaza Strip and halt their own military operations.

(AP Photo/Eric Feferberg)
Meanwhile, al-Assad (at left) said any truce between Israel and Hamas must stop what his country describes as "war crimes," and lift the blockade on the tiny Palestinian territory.

Sultanov also held a meeting with Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and to review international and regional endeavors, including the role that could be played by Russia to stop the Israeli aggression and withdraw the military forces from the Strip, according to state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

Al-Assad and Medvedev spoke on the phone earlier in the week and the Russian leader decided to send his aide for more talks with the Syrians.

The Syrian President, after talks with Sarkozy in Damascus on Tuesday, said a cease-fire was only attainable after Israel stops the "war crimes" and opens the crossing points to allow the flow of medical and other aid to the Palestinians.

Sarkozy was in Damascus Tuesday pressing Syria to convince Hamas to halt rocket fire into Israel.

Syria, along with Iran, is a main backer of Hamas and hosts members of the group's exiled leadership, including Mashaal.
  • George Baghdadi

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