Khaled Mashaal, the politburo chief of Hamas, held a press conference today in Damascus, Syria, where he is living in exile. His main message was to the Israeli government: end the occupation of Palestinian land, and a truce may be possible. Asked about last year’s truce with Israel, Mashaal stated that it did not go well, mainly due to ongoing Israeli incursions and attacks.

After Hamas’ majority win in Palestinian legislative elections on Wednesday, the U.S. , the World Bank and others threatened to withdraw funding from the Palestinian Authority due to Hamas’ reputation as a ‘terrorist organization’. Israeli officials said that it would be impossible to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas, and the European Union hinted that unless Hamas renounced violence, their funding of the Palestinian Authority could also dry up. To this Mashaal responded, “The world raised the slogan of democracy and now it should respect the results of democracy. If you want to punish the Palestinian people for practicing democracy then the American administration should punish Americans for choosing President (George W.) Bush.”

The main focus of Mashaal’s talk was on the reform of the Palestinian Authority, and continued resistance to Israeli occupation. He did not renounce possible attacks on Israeli civilians, “as long as Israel continues to target civilians”. Indeed, the evening after election results were announced on Thursday, a nine year old girl was shot and killed by Israeli forces in Khan Younis, in the Gaza Strip. No retaliatory strikes were made by Hamas members against Israeli targets after the attack.

Mashaal thanked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for holding elections on time, and in a fair, democratic way, and declared that Hamas would focus on reforming the Palestinian government. “Hamas succeeded in resistance, and now we will succeed in reform.”