Hamas leader says Palestinian President Abbas 'counts for nothing'

Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Mashaal said the only road to peace runs through Hamas and, in comments to an Italian newspaper, disparaged Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for having no influence.

Mashaal's remarks were published in Corriere della Sera on Monday, hours before British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Abbas during a visit to Ramallah in the West Bank amid renewed factional violence.

"With regards to (Mahmoud Abbas) didn't you realize yet that he counts for nothing?" Mashaal told Corriere. "Nothing when he was Arafat's number 2, and nothing when he was premier in 2005. Why should he be supported by Europe now? Remember. The only way to peace runs through Hamas."

Violence between forces of the rival Hamas and Fatah movements killed at least four people on Tuesday.

Hamas and Fatah have been locked in a power struggle since the Islamic group defeated Fatah in legislative elections in January. Abbas' Fatah party controls the presidency, while Hamas controls parliament and the Palestinian Cabinet, putting it in charge of most government functions, reports AP.

The latest fighting erupted after the three young sons of a Fatah security officer were gunned down last week and worsened following Abbas' announcement Saturday that he would call new elections to end the impasse.

"We are ready for a 'hudna,' a 10-year truce with Israel," said Mashaal, who lives in Syria. "During that period, a Palestinian state will be formed in the territories occupied in 1967. Then, it will be up to the next generations to decide about their future."

on Monday, Mashaal issued a statement from Syria saying he had been in touch with key mediators including Qatar and Egypt to discuss "how to contain the current tension in the Palestinian area." The statement stressed Hamas' commitment to "dialogue as the only way to solve differences and problems with Fatah."

In all, 13 people have died in the weeklong clashes, making it one of the deadliest bouts of Palestinian infighting ever.

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