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Lavrov Says Moscow Wants To Keep Up Hamas Contacts

Diplomats suggest moves by U.S. President Barack Obama, seen here with Lavrov at a recent meeting in Washington, may have helped spur Lavrov's Hamas meeting.
DAMASCUS (Reuters) -- Russia believes in the need to maintain contacts with the Palestinian group Hamas, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said despite a cooling of ties between the two sides.

"We are certain that this is needed," Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying after meeting Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in the Syrian capital, where he lives in exile.

Diplomats in Damascus said new Middle East peace moves by U.S. President Barack Obama may have helped spur the meeting between Lavrov and Meshaal after tension between Hamas and Russia over the last few months.

Lavrov was on a brief visit to Syria to attend a foreign ministers' meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and meet Syrian officials.

Russia is the only member of what is known as the Quartet of Middle East negotiators that does not boycott Hamas.

Moscow, however, has criticized Hamas for not doing what Moscow considers enough to achieve reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and his Fatah faction.

Hamas had shown little enthusiasm for Russian plans to hold a Middle East peace conference that would have been a follow-up to one organized by the United States in Annapolis, Maryland in November 2007, partly because the Palestinians would have been represented by Abbas.

The Quartet, which comprises the European Union, United Nations, Russia, and the United States, wants Hamas to renounce armed struggle, recognize Israel, and accept agreements concluded between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel.