Russia needs to keep talking to Hamas – FM

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that Hamas has adopted a more realistic approach to negotiating peace settlement with Israel.

"We have sensed a more realistic assessment of the situation on the part of Hamas, and have sensed the responsibility that Hamas feels for the fate of the Palestinian people," Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Sunday.

He added that the situation on the Gaza border is calm now but maintained that a formal ceasefire should be signed.

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The Russian minister met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday where the latter lives in exile. After the meeting, Lavrov said that Russia needs to maintain ties with Hamas.

Lavrov pointed out, though, that the group has not done enough to reach a reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction.

Russia’s foreign minister said Hamas would only be welcome at a planned Middle East summit in Moscow as part of a Palestinian delegation.

"Everyone would like to see a united Palestinian delegation at Moscow's Middle East conference. And I hope a delegation which will represent all Palestinians, not just separate groups, will be formed. The Middle East is experiencing tough and challenging times. A major task now is to assure freedom of movement for people in the West Bank – and the unlocking of the Gaza Strip,” Lavrov said.

He also noted that agreement between Hamas and Fatah about the creation of a national unity government and holding of parliamentary and presidential elections in the Palestinian Autonomy is a condition for the formation of such a delegation.

Lavrov told journalists on Saturday that a meeting of the Middle East Quartet (the European Union, United Nations, Russia and the United States) might take place as soon as June 2009.

Talking about an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, he reiterated that the parties should respect their obligations and reject unilateral actions.

"This primarily is about ending the settlement activities. Also, securing the freedom of movement of Palestinians on the West Bank and the unblocking of the Gaza Strip are priority tasks,” Lavrov explained.

He added that “the dangerous protracted pause in the talks should be overcome”.

Meanwhile, Russia’s position of maintaining relations with Hamas is not welcomed by Israel.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Sunday that senior officials within Israel’s Foreign Ministry have already expressed their displeasure with the meeting between the Russian Foreign Minister and the Hamas leader.

The newspaper said that the Russian meeting with Hamas casts a “heavy pall” over Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s first visit to Russia next week, as Lieberman has frequently criticized Russia for its contacts with Hamas.

The source stressed that Russia is the only country among the Middle East Quartet that does not boycott the organization.