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CNN exclusive: Inside the mind of Hamas' political leader

By Holly Yan, Steve Almasy, and Ali Younes, CNN
August 4, 2014 -- Updated 1820 GMT (0220 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The leader of Hamas' political wing faced tough questions from CNN's Nic Robertson in Qatar
  • Khaled Meshaal insists Hamas does not use civilians as human shields
  • Hamas will continue resistance, Meshaal says
  • A true cease-fire must include the end to a blockade of Gaza, he says

Doha, Qatar (CNN) -- CNN's Nic Robertson had tough questions for Hamas's political leader.

Khaleed Meshaal is known as Hamas' external deal-maker and a fund-raiser from supporters in the region, a role the 58-year-old has held since 2004.

Robertson interviewed Meshaal over the weekend in Qatar, where he lives. Here are some highlights from the interview.

Firing rockets from neighborhoods

Robertson asked Meshaal why Hamas is firing rockets from civilian neighborhoods. Meshaal answered with numbers.

Israeli spokesman responds to Hamas

"How many Israeli civilians have our rockets killed? Israel knows the number. Meanwhile, how many Palestinians has Israel killed? Up until now have been killed 1700 people, while we have killed 63 soldiers. We kill soldiers, while they kill civilians."

(The Palestinian death toll as of Monday was at least 1,856, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel had been killed, according to Israeli officials.)

Robertson then asked Meshaal to respond to critics who say Hamas is using civilian deaths to gain international sympathy.

Meshaal called that a lie and said Hamas is not seeking international sympathy through its own victims.

"It is unfortunate that the American administration and President Obama have adopted the Israeli narrative, which is a lie. Hamas sacrifices itself for its people and does not use its people as human shields to protect its soldiers. The fighter, just like the soldier in the army, his job is to protect the people, and not to sacrifice the people for himself."

Hamas' cause

Meshaal said Israel has a powerful military but the Palestinians will triumph.

"We are stronger than they are in the justness of our cause. We are the rightful owners of the land, and they are the thieves of the land. We are the victims and they are the murderers. But despite this, we might not win a battle or two completely, but at the end we will win the war. Our steadfastness is a victory. For us to kill their soldiers while they kill our civilians is also a victory for the Palestinian cause and Hamas."

Robertson pressed Meshaal on the point, asking how this can be a victory for Hamas and its cause when so many Palestinians are dying.

"Our people are convinced today that the only way to get rid of the occupation and establish their state is through resistance."

Cease-fire

Robertson wanted to know whether Hamas would ever accept Israel's right to exist and agree to a cease-fire.

"We're ready for a cease-fire. We want the war to end today, and we did not attack anyone. It was (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu who transferred the crisis of what happened in the West Bank to Gaza. He's the one responsible for this. We're ready to stop this war." (The killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank triggered the current crisis.)

Egyptian talks

Hamas has agreed to cease-fires through Egyptian mediators "many times" since 2003, Meshaal said.

"The Israelis, the Egyptians and the American administration know (this), otherwise John Kerry would not have intervened this time nor (former Secretary of State) Mrs. Hillary Clinton in 2012. They know that Hamas is very credible in that if its leadership promised something, it will fulfill its promise, and the fighters on the ground will follow that."

He said he is still willing to engage in talks with Egyptians acting as the go-betweens.

"Regardless what the others' positions (are), we stated that we are ready to go as a Palestinian delegation to Cairo in order to talk to the Egyptians so they can hold indirect talks between us and the Israelis, so we can reach an agreement that will address our Palestinian demands, headed by ending the siege of Gaza. Then cease-fire can take place. We announced this position before and we are still committed to it."

Peace negotiations

Hamas is not to blame for the lack of a solution, he said.

"We the Palestinian people have, since 1948, have listened to the international community and U.N. and international regulations, in the hope they end the aggression against us. But the international community failed in ending the Israeli occupation and failed in helping our people to have self-determination and have its own state. Even the latest (peace) negotiations, between (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud) Abbas and Netanyahu with Kerry as the broker, were sabotaged by Netanyahu."

Calls for cease-fires

Meshaal said he would support a temporary cease-fire for humanitarian purposes. But he would only support a long-term cease-fire if Israel changes its policy restricting the movement of goods and people into Gaza.

"There are two kinds of cease-fires: There is the humanitarian cease-fire, like 72-hour cease-fire that was meant to help and aid our people getting food, water, and help collecting the bodies. As far as the sustainable cease-fire, this is connected to an agreement accepted by the two parties that will guarantee our Palestinian demands headed by lifting the siege on Gaza."

What is Hamas' endgame in Gaza?

CNN's Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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