As fighting rages between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, Hamas' political leader, who lives in Qatar, sat down with CNN for an exclusive interview. Khaled Meshaal, a 58-year-old former teacher, has had the role since 2004, after Hamas' then-leader, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, was killed in an Israeli airstrike.
Meshaal is known as Hamas' external deal-maker, raising money from supporters in the region.He spoke with CNN's Nic Robertson in an interview.
Khaled Meshaal: Hamas is an institutional movement, it has a respected leadership. All the members of Hamas, whether in the political or armed wing, are disciplined. The Israelis, the Egyptians and the American administration know [this] otherwise John Kerry would not have intervened this time.
Nic Robertson: President Obama said it is irresponsible of Hamas to fire their rockets from civilian neighbourhoods; that’s what you’re doing. Why do you do it when you know civilians are going to die?
Khaled Meshaal: Look at the results - how many Israeli civilians were killed? Israel knows the number; while how many Palestinian civilians Israel has killed? It killed up to this minute 1700 martyr. While we killed – by Israel’s admission - 63 soldiers; we kill soldiers while they kill Palestinian civilians.
Nic Robertson: Because you fire rockets from civilians’ neighbourhoods, your rockets are fired – Israel says – indiscriminately to civilian areas in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem. President Obama says you’re firing your rockets from civilian neighbourhood and you know what that means – that you will have high civilian casualties. Critics are saying that the only reason that you’re doing this is so you get the international outpouring of international sympathy because of the high civilian casualties.
Khaled Meshaal: It is unfortunate that the US 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 shield to protect its soldiers. These are lies, and Hamas does not seek international sympathy through its own victims.
Nic Robertson: What are you prepared to do to get a cease are you prepared to destroy your tunnels? Are you prepared to stop firing rockets at Israel? Are you prepared to accept the right of Israel to exist as a state?
Khaled Meshaal: We’re ready for a cease fire, we don’t want war. We want the war to end today, we did not attack anyone. It was Netanyahu who transferred the crises that took place in the West Bank on June 12th to Gaza. He is responsible for this. We are ready to stop this war, and we want cease fire.
Nic Robertson: Are you ready to stop building rockets, are you ready to stop firing rockets?
Khaled Meshaal: I will answer you. Why are there demands only on the Palestinian people to get rid of their modest and simple weapons, but no similar demands on Israel – the occupying state? We are ready to discuss the removal of weapons.
Nic Robertson: but the Israelis say you are firing them indiscriminately at Israeli civilians. That what you’re using those weapons for, when they’re not firing at you, you’re firing at them. That’s how this began.
Khaled Meshaal: Israel is the one who started the aggression, and it is Israel who is killing civilians. I explained to you in detail what Israel is doing in Gaza in killing civilians.
Nic Robertson: but there was stability there, there was peace, there was a period recently when there were no rockets.
Khaled Meshaal: Unfortunately, the United States, and the West and the Western media have adopted the Israeli narrative.
Nic Robertson: Are you wining this war?
Khaled Meshaal: Our steadfastness is itself a victory. For us to kill their soldiers while they kill our civilians is also a victory for the Palestinian cause and for Hamas.
Nic Robertson: How are you having a victory for the resistance and for the cause when so many Palestinians are dying, how is that a victory? Your rockets aren’t striking the Israeli cities; you’ve killed a handful of Israeli soldiers? How are you winning? How is this a strategic victory?
Khaled Meshaal: Our people are convinced today that the only way to get rid of the occupation and establish their state is through resistance like all of the people of the world have done, just like what the American people did when they got rid of the British occupation and as the French did when they got rid of the Nazi occupation.
Nic Robertson: President Obama asked you to be more responsible, to not fire rockets from civilian neighbourhood. What concessions are you willing to make to get this blockade lifted?
Khaled Meshaal: We are ready to take all the positive steps, and we have done it before. Let me say it, let the aggression end.
Nic Robertson: get rid of the tunnels, stop firing rockets?
Khaled Meshaal: I’ll tell you - let the aggression end, and the siege lifted, and Hamas and resistance will not fire rockets on anybody. We are defending ourselves. Full stop.
Nic Robertson: You will stop the rockets?
Khaled Meshaal: When the Israeli aggression ends, we will stop responding to them..
Nic Robertson: Let’s define the aggression, what has to stop?
Khaled Meshaal: Israel has to stop all forms of aggression - missiles and jets, attacks by air, land and sea; they must open the border crossings and lift the siege… Beyond that, the main issue is to end the occupation and end the building of settlements because that is the true root causes of this conflict.
Nic Robertson: How much support you get support from Qatar?
Khaled Meshaal: No one is giving us weapons, we have smuggled some weapons from abroad, we got some from the international market, while Iran had in the past supplied us with weapons. We build our weapons in Gaza.”
Nic Robertson: And financial support from Qatar?
Khaled Meshaal: We get financial support from the Arab and Muslim nations not from states.
Nic Robertson: The money?
Khaled Meshaal: All the money we get is directed to supply the humanitarian needs of our people. To hospitals, education, families of dead ones, and with our money we build what the Israelis have demolished with their savage aggression against us..in Gaza, but yes some of that money goes towards helping us defend ourselves, which is within our rights.
Nic Robertson: Even the UN says you are storing weapons.
Khaled Meshaal: These are lies, and I am willing to accept a neutral investigation for all these stories. Israel does not need justifications to kill. It kills, then it makes up the justifications later. Do you know that until now Israel has destroyed 60 mosques, destroyed hospitals, destroyed buildings that housed media offices and UN schools that sheltered civilians and markets? What kind of logic is this? Does that mean that Hamas hid its missiles in all of these buildings in the Gaza strip? Hamas knows how to fight the Israelis honourably. Hamas fights with its soldiers, and knows where it puts its rockets, and where it places its fighters. The duty of the fighters is to protect their people, while Israel kills civilians. When the Israeli Settlers in the West Bank burned Mohamad Abu Khdeir, a 16 year old, did he have rockets from Hamas? Israel, its settlers and its armies kill the Palestinians then find excuses for that.