Face-to-face with top Hamas leader in secret location

Editor’s note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events. Here, Cal Perry describes speaking with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in a secret location in Damascus, Syria.

DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) — Sitting in a room with the top Hamas leader — a man Israel would prefer dead — is not an easy feeling, knowing that at any second a missile could shatter the building, killing everyone inside, myself included.

And, of course, it is no surprise why Israel has Khaled Meshaal at the top of its hit list. He is known to have ordered bombings that have targeted Israeli civilians, blowing up cafés, markets and malls across Israel.

CNN senior correspondent Nic Robertson and I recently sat down with Meshaal in a secret Hamas “safe house” in the middle of Damascus. Hamas security guards were all around, their automatic rifles draped over their shoulders. The walls were adorned with the pictures of Hamas members who have carried out suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

We sipped coffee uneasily as we waited for Meshaal to emerge for an interview that was more than three years in the making. Suddenly and without warning, the Hamas leader appeared.

Dressed in a suit, he smiled as he greeted us. “You are more than welcome,” he said in broken English, a common phrase you hear in the Middle East.
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INTERVIEW: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

In my opinion …
In a conflict ALL sides must have a voice! To completely isolate one party for whatever reason is wrong. As long as there is communication, there’s always a chance, however minute, to find a solution or at least establish a foundation for future negotiations.

The ONE question always asked first is “How can you negotiate with terrorists? With people who send suicide bombers?” I say you MUST talk – silence and isolation kill every last iota of hope of ever finding a common denominator on which any future talks can be built on and can only lead to even more deterioration of the situation!

You want to solve a problem – find first of all a way to TALK!

The stand of the Israeli government and consequently her allies is WRONG – it drives all parties further apart, increases the downward spiral of hatred and violence to an irreversible point which will one day inevitably lead to another escalation!

NO PARTY wants that!

Do I support Hamas? NO, I don’t! I do not support ANYONE who uses, promotes and even encourages violence and that includes Israel. I am FOR finding a peaceful solution, however difficult and complex – nobody can tell me is NOT possible!

There is ALWAYS a way – it just has to be found!

Israel’s fourty-year long devastating occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (the so-called “disengagement” from Gaza did NOT “disengage” at all – the only difference to before is physical absence of settlements inside the Gaza Strip! Israel still controls EVERY ASPECT of life which includes ALL boarder-crossings as well as access by water, electricity and gas!) , the ever growing apartheid against Palestinians everywhere, the tightening of the economical rope around the neck, the sky-reaching injustice, the ongoing house destructions and land confiscations, the so-called “security-wall”, the horrific personal toll it takes on the people …

… who on this planet would sit still and silently suffer?


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