Mahmoud al-Zahar is widely regarded as the leader of Hamas in the Palestinian territories.
He is HAMAS's most senior figure in Gaza after the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 2004.
Born in Gaza, he studied medicine at Cairo University. An admirer of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, he turned to Islamism after Israel’s rout of the Arab regimes in 1967. He grew disillusioned at what he called the ‘contamination and poverty’ of the Egyptian system.
He was a co-founder of Hamas in 1987 and served as as its first press spokesman.
Israel expelled him from Gaza in 1992 and sent him into temporary exile in Lebanon.
Israel tried to assassinate him, but he escaped an F16 raid on his home.
The Israeli raid killed his eldest son and injured his wife.
Dr al-Zahar offered no apologies for his past or his hardline views.
This is what he told Stephen Farrell of The Times this week.
1. On giving up weapons:
2. On negotiations with Israel:
“Why do we have to give up our weapons?
If Israel comes back to occupy our land, will your country come to defend our people?
Why do we have to put up our guns while every country everywhere has in addition to a political system a strong military system in order to protect their homeland, their interests and their people?
So why do you consider us a unique phenomenon that we have to keep the Israeli border, to keep the Israeli aggression against our people, to keep our people inside Israeli jails without resistance?”
3. On relations with Israel:
“Negotiation is not a goal in itself. It is a method; it is not an objective.
If Israel has anything to offer on the issues of halting attacks, withdrawal, releasing prisoners . . . then one thousand means can be found.
Negotiation is not taboo.
The political crime is when we sit with the Israelis and then come out with a wide smile to tell the Palestinian people that there is progress, when in fact, there is not.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiated with them for many, many years and reached lastly a deadlock. So why should we be a new copy, like Fatah, wasting the time and money of the people negotiating for nothing?”
4. On fears that the West will cut off aid:
“We have to disengage from Israel economically, on security, everything.
We have to open the doors to the Arab and Muslim countries.
Co-operation on the security field was a disaster for the Palestinians because it threatened the integrity of the Palestinians.
When the PA co-operated against Hamas, that was a very critical moment that could have pushed some Hamas people to attack the PA.
We destroyed our economical status by the linkage of our economy with the Israeli (one) . . . For example, we pay 5.5 shekels (66p) per litre for petrol from Israel.
From Egypt, one metre from our borders, it is one Egyptian pound (9p).
In 2004 we paid to Israel in one year $186 million (£105 million) for electricity.
If we took it from Egypt it will be $20 million. We have ten commercial agreements with the Arabic and Islamic world without taxes.
Israel takes from us 17 taxes and they are destroying our industry.”
5. On Europe:
“Forty per cent of donated money is conditional.
If the condition is to dismantle the resistance movement to prevent Hamas participating in the government, when the people vote for Hamas, how can we justify to the Palestinians that we are taking money from a donor country at the expense of national interest?
So we are not in need of the money, especially if it is at the expense of our national interest. But even so we ask everybody to help the Palestinian people, but without conditions.
And they have the full right to come, watch and observe where the money went, where it is used.
But if they are going to help Israel’s long-standing occupation this is unacceptable.”
“The European people came to me in the last month and they said within six months they are going to do their best to change the attitudes of their administration, because they do not accept Hamas is a terrorist organisation.6. On relations with America:
Sooner or later the European countries in particular are going to change their mind concerning their attitude with Hamas.”
7. On US foreign policy:
“With America in such a ‘dirty man’ period I think nothing can be changed.
In America there is a Christian Zionism. They believe that Jesus will return for the second 1,000 years.
You heard from Bush when he said, ‘It is a new Crusade’.
He is arousing a deep hatred, an historical hatred in this area.
The F16 which destroyed my house is American.
The Apache helicopters are American.
The international decisions in the Security Council backing Israel are American.
The pressure on you to help the Israelis and to consider Hamas terrorist is American.”
8. On electoral victory:
“After the attack on Iraq they are suffering from a big hatred, a bad feeling from the Arabic and Islamic world and also the international community . . . They arrange for a very dirty policy in the Middle East.
They attacked Afghanistan and put in (Hamid) Karzai, an American collaborator, and put in a corrupt Iraqi collaborator.
And they dismantled the security of Egypt by arousing the protests of Christianity and Islam. They tried to interfere in Saudi Arabia.
Now they destroy the integrity of Lebanon.
Now they threaten the situation in Syria.
What is running here is big crimes, international crimes.”
“It is good for the history of Palestine because the corrupted system should reach an end for the benefit of the Palestinian people.
For Hamas it will give a second stage towards being legitimate.
We achieved the first process: the legitimacy of fighting against the enemy and achieving success.
The second is constitutional.”