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Russia: Hamas Talks Anger Israel

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah (file photo) (epa) Israel's politicians continued today to criticize Russia's plan to invite Palestinian election-winner Hamas to Moscow for talks. Some Israeli leaders said the decision might even threaten peacemaking prospects. However, France signaled support on 10 February for the Russian plan.

PRAGUE, 12 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Israel continues to criticize Russia's decision to invite Hamas leaders for talks, following the Islamist group's victory in the 25 January Palestinian elections.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni used tough language today to denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin for granting a meeting to Hamas.

Speaking on army radio, he said that "the Russian invitation is misplaced, superfluous, and will provoke damage." Livni said that the fact that the organization participated in the Palestinian elections "does not whitewash Hamas, which is a terrorist organization."

'Legitimizing' A Terrorist Organization

On the sidelines of Israel's weekly cabinet meeting today, Minister without portfolio Tzahi Hanegbi said Israel would try to persuade the Russian president not to legitimize Hamas.

"Israel along with other members of the international community will make an utmost effort to prevent the Russian authorities and the Russian president from legitimizing the Hamas terrorist organization," Hanegbi said. "It is in contradiction to the unity that was so far exercised by the international community, isolating the new leadership in the Palestinian Authority and making sure that such an organization [as the authority] will not adapt the values and behaviors of a terror organization."

Hamas leaders confirmed they plan to travel to Moscow this month. They said they did not expect Russia to impose conditions for the trip, despite U.S. calls for Moscow to send a clear message that Hamas must halt attacks on Israel and recognize the Jewish state.

In Gaza, senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah said the movement was happy with the invitation.

"The Islamic resistance movement of Hamas, as we hold talks with neighboring countries of the Arab and Muslim world, and [planning] to [meet] members of the international community, we respect this invitation from the Russian President [Vladimir] Putin, and we are ready to visit Russia soon at the most suitable time," he said.

'Advancing' The Situation

Russia has stood its ground in the face of criticism and has predicted other countries would sooner or later follow its lead and have contacts with Hamas.

Russia's special envoy to the Middle East, Aleksandr Kalugin, said he told Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas today that Russia would press Hamas to change its position on Israel. Kalugin was speaking after talks with Abbas in Ramallah.

He said Russia will ask Hamas to recognise Israel, to reject terrorism, and to implement all Palestinian agreements with Israel.

France's Foreign Ministry said Russia's invitation to Hamas can "contribute toward advancing" the situation. French Finance Minister Thierry Breton reiterated this position during the meeting of Group of Eight finance ministers in Moscow.

"Everything which allows a return to normality in the recognition of the state of Israel and the pursuit of the peace process is going in the right direction," Breton said.

The international 'quartet' of the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union has callsed on Hamas to accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, including the "road map" peace plan, which it sponsors.

Hamas leaders, however, have refused to change their stance toward the Jewish state. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States. However, the organization does not feature on any such Russian blacklist.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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