Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Wednesday the Islamist group would accept a peace deal with Israel if the Palestinian people approved it in a referendum.
"Hamas will respect the results (of a referendum) regardless of whether it differs with its ideology and principles," he said.
The statement appeared to signal a shift in the group's long-standing policy of refusing to accept either Israel's legitimacy or any peace treaty negotiated by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
"We accept a Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the resolution of the issue of refugees," Haniyeh added, referring to the year of Middle East war in which Israel captured East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.
Hamas has frequently derided negotiations with Israel as a waste of time and Haniyeh said he remained unconvinced that peace talks would result in an agreement.
"There won't be a solution with two states on the land ... Israel wants the land, peace, and security with us and this is something impossible."
Abbas restarted direct talks with Israel in September with the aim of reaching a peace agreement within a year.
But negotiations broke down three weeks later after Israel refused to renew a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank that expired on September 26.
Hamas has frequently criticized Abbas for agreeing to negotiations with Israel.
Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006, defeating Abbas's Fatah party. Long-standing tensions between the rivals boiled over in June 2007, when the Islamist group's forces routed Fatah and seized control of Gaza.
All attempts at reconciliation between the two sides, most of them mediated by Egypt, have failed. Fatah and Hamas have accused each other of undermining trust by persecuting political rivals in the territory under its control.
No Qaeda here
Haniyeh said Israel was not willing to give the Palestinians a fully sovereign state and he therefore had no hope the fragile U.S. - brokered attempts to revive peacemaking would succeed.
He said his movement was willing to cooperate with Western and European countries "who want to help the Palestinian people regain their rights". The United States and European Union shun Hamas as a terrorist organization and do not recognize its Gaza authority.
"We urge European foreign ministers to revise their position regarding meetings with the elected government," Haniyeh said, adding that contacts were being made with United Nations officials in the Gaza Strip in this regard.
Haniyeh denied Israel's claim to have killed three members of the al-Qaeda organization in Gaza in the past month.
Israel said two of three militants it killed in November were planning attacks against Israeli and western tourists in the Egyptian territory of Sinai.
Haniyeh told reporters that such allegations are lies meant to prepare the ground for future Israeli attacks on Gaza.
He also said that he sent a reassuring letter to Egypt's intelligence chief.
He said a priority of his government was to avoid a military escalation with Israel by persuading other militant factions to preserve a de facto ceasefire.
Hamas had repeatedly distanced itself from al-Qaeda and had not hesitated to condemn al-Qaeda-claimed attacks in some Arab and western capitals, he noted.
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