RAMALLAH, West Bank - Hamas is ready for a "two-state" solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a senior official said Friday, in what would appear to be a softening of Hamas' position and imply recognition of the Jewish state.
The official said Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas would discuss the idea with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate, in a meeting in Gaza City later Friday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal has not yet been submitted.
"Haniyeh is to tell Abu Mazen (Abbas) tonight that Hamas is able to adopt the two-state solution as a platform of the Cabinet. But we know Israel doesn't accept us. We want to give room for movement and to lift international pressure on the Cabinet," the senior official said.
In a published interview Friday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar also confirmed Hamas' willingness to discuss a solution that would implicitly recognize Israel.
He said his government is prepared to discuss the idea with the Quartet of international Mideast negotiators - the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
"Let us speak about what is the meaning of the two-state solution," he told The Times of London. "We will ask them what is their concept concerning the two-state solution."
Only a day earlier, Haniyeh had told The Associated Press that Hamas would not recognize Israel.
The contradictory statements came as Hamas is under intense international pressure to moderate its views, including recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting existing peace agreements. In Brussels, Belgium, the EU announced Friday it would cut off direct aid payments to the Hamas-led government.
The idea of accepting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an apparent attempt by Hamas to appease the international community, without having to state directly that it is recognizing Israel.
Hamas officials have said they would only grant such recognition in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from all lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast War - the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
In exchange for backing a two-state solution, Hamas wants Abbas to grant the group its "constitutional rights," the senior Hamas official said. Abbas has taken steps recently to curb Hamas' power in security matters. On Thursday, Abbas named a longtime ally to supervise the security forces that are supposed to be under the authority of the Hamas Cabinet.
Early Friday morning, Israeli aircraft fired missiles at three sites in Gaza City, including a security compound not far from Abbas' office, witnesses said. Nobody was hurt. The other two targets were offices of Abbas' Fatah Party, one in northern Gaza and the other in Gaza City, they said. The airstrikes followed three rocket attacks from Gaza at Israel, causing some damage but no casualties.
Sitting beneath a picture of Abbas and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Haniyeh said he rejected any attempts to take power away from Hamas, which won Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. His Cabinet was sworn in last week.
"There are attempts to create parallel frameworks to some ministries in the Palestinian government," Haniyeh said in the interview with AP at his Gaza City headquarters. "But I don't think (Abbas) can keep up this pressure and take away power from this government."
Haniyeh said Abbas had assured him the security forces would remain under the control of the Hamas-led Cabinet, which, he said, did not take power "on the back of a tank" but in "transparent and fair elections."
But hours later, Abbas appointed a longtime ally, Rashid Abu Shbak, to head the three security services that fall under new Interior Minister Said Siyam, in addition to agencies already under the president's aegis. Though Siyam would technically be Abu Shbak's boss, any dispute between the two would be resolved in the Abbas-headed National Security Council.
Abu Shbak said he was authorized to hire and fire officers in the three security branches. "Any recruitment of directors of deputy directors for any of the three services will be made through me," he said. His appointment reduced Hamas' authority over the security apparatus to cutting checks for its 58,000 officers.
Abbas has said he wants to resume peace talks with Israel, which has shunned the Hamas government, and Haniyeh said he would not stand in the way of those talks.
Abbas, "as the head of the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, can move on political fronts and negotiate with whomever he wants. What is important is what will be offered to the Palestinian people," Haniyeh said.
When asked if he was a pragmatic man and would recognize Israel, he switched to English: "That is a big question."
He then said there was no change in Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect all past accords signed by the Palestinian Authority - the three conditions Israel and the West have imposed for dealing with Hamas, which is listed as a terror group by the U.S. and European Union.
At the same time, he struck a conciliatory tone when speaking about the United States, saying, "we don't want feelings of animosity to remain in the region, not toward the U.S. administration and not toward the West."
He also denied reports that al-Qaida militants had infiltrated Palestinian territories.
Also Thursday, the Palestine Liberation Organization, which Abbas heads, ordered the Hamas-led Foreign Ministry to coordinate with it before making major pronouncements on diplomatic policy. The PLO is technically in charge of the Palestinians' foreign affairs.
Abbas is likely to continue amassing power to end Western sanctions, said Khalil Shahin, a political analyst with the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper.
"I predict that he will keep stripping Hamas of more of its authorities, particularly on the financial ministries and other bodies responsible for infrastructure and the security," he said. "(Abbas) is trying with these measures to spare the Palestinian people more suffering and more sanctions."