Hamas chief - EU wrong to blacklist group as terrorists

DAMASCUS, Syria -- The European Union committed a "big mistake" by blacklisting Hamas as a terrorist organization, but the move won't affect the group's resistance operations, a senior leader of the Palestinian militant group said Sunday.

Hamas leader in Syria Khaled Mashaal said as the group's resources came from Arabs and Muslims, the EU ban would not affect Hamas' struggle against Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

"Europe has made a big mistake by taking this decision," Mashaal told The Associated Press. It was "an aggression against the Palestinian people, rather than Hamas. It is a kind of compliance with Israel and submission to American pressures."

The European Union has added the entire Hamas organization to its terrorist list, but stopped short of a U.S.-like crackdown on related charities that allegedly funnel money to the group. The list had included only Hamas' military wing.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa held talks Sunday on the worsening Middle East crisis, but neither side wanted to take credit for making such a rare, high-level telephone call.

The Syrians say it was Arafat who made what was the first such call in years to a top Syrian official, but the Palestinians reckon it was the other way around.

While both are avowed foes of Israel, relations between Syria and the Palestinians have been chilly since 1983, when Arafat fell out with Syria's late president, Hafez Assad, and was effectively expelled from Damascus.

Arafat's last official visit to Damascus was in September 1993, shortly before cutting a framework peace deal with Israel that enraged Syria. He also went to Syria to offer condolences on the death of Hafez Assad in June 2000.

Mashaal, who called Arafat Friday to convey Hamas' condemnation of Israel's move, said political differences between his group and the longtime Palestinian leader "does not mean we are in a state of Palestinian-Palestinian conflict."

Mashaal said he was in constant touch with his "brothers" inside the Palestinian areas and pledged to continue attacking Israelis as long as it continued assassinating Palestinian leaders.

Asked if he feared Israeli threats to assassinate Hamas leaders abroad, Mashaal said: "Of course I expect (Israelis) to try assassinate me. But I am not afraid."

Mashaal survived a botched Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997.

Syria has been under U.S. pressure to close down the offices of Damascus-based Palestinian organizations.

Mashaal said no mediations were underway to convince Hamas, which has been responsible for scores of suicide bombings in Israel, to discuss another truce with the Jewish state. Hamas recently ended a two-month truce with Israel after Israeli forces assassinated a Hamas leader in Gaza.

He also condemned Israel's security Cabinet decision to "remove" Arafat following two Palestinian suicide bombings that killed 15 Israelis.