Russian meeting with Hamas provokes criticism from Israel

Friday, May 14, 2010

Russian president Dmitriy Medvedev met with the Khaled Meshaal, leader of the Hamas group, earlier this week in Syria, prompting criticism from Israel.

Medvedev, during the meeting, had encouraged Hamas to reconciliate with rival Fatah; a spokeswoman quoted him as saying that "no one" should be left out of the peace process.

He also requested that an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006, Gilad Shalit, be released, although this was refused by Hamas, who says that Shalit wouldn't be released unless there was an "honourable" prisoner exchange with Israel. Shortly before his conversation with Meshaal, Medvedev also held a meeting with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

A statement by the Israeli foreign ministry read: "Hamas is a terror organization whose declared goal is the destruction of the state of Israel. Hamas is responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians, among them immigrants from the Soviet Union and also Russian citizens.

"Israel has always stood by Russia in its struggle against the Chechnyan terrorism. We expect the same attitude when we are talking about the Hamas terrorism against Israel."

Ha'aretz, an Israeli newspaper, described the meeting as being "a surprise" for the country.

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Andrei Nesterenko, a spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry, responded to Israel's comments, saying: "Hamas is not an artificial structure. It is a movement that draws on the trust and sympathy of a large number of Palestinians. We have regular contacts with this movement.

"It is known that all other participants of the Middle East quartet are also in some sort of contact with Hamas leadership, although for some unknown reason they are shy to publicly admit it."

Only a few countries in Europe, including Russia, maintain ties with Hamas; the European Union and the United States regard it as a terrorist organisation.