Hamas Meets Scholars, Businessmen on Key Russia Visit

Hamas leaders met religious and business leaders in Moscow Saturday, March 4, on the second day of their landmark first visit to a major world power following the movement's landslide victory in Palestinian elections.

Hamas Meets Scholars, Businessmen on Key Russia Visit

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal kicked off his talks with a meeting with Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Russian Council of Muftis, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Gainutdin said Russian Muslims wanted to see progress in the Middle East peace process.

"We will stress the need for the process to move forward through political negotiation and for armed confrontation to be stopped," he was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying as he met Meshaal.

Those talks are to be followed by discussions with the chairman of the foreign relations committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament as well as a meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II,

Meshaal is also due to meet with Arab and other Muslim business leaders in Moscow in the evening.

"We consider this visit to be a very important breakthrough," Mohammad Nazzal, a senior Hamas official and member of the delegation accompanying Meshaal, told AFP ahead of the meetings Saturday.

"The US administration is trying to isolate Hamas, they are trying to place Hamas under political siege. This visit to Russia is the first and we look forward to establishing good relations between Hamas and Russia in the future," Nazzal said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin caught the other Quartet members –- the US, the UN and the EU -- by surprise when he invited Meshaal to Moscow last month, but after initially seeking "clarifications" of the move the United States has since voiced qualified support for Moscow's initiative.

Israeli officials have described Putin's invitation to Hamas as a "knife in the back", although the Europeans have signaled the talks could be useful in breaking the impasse.

The visit was held under intense security. The delegation had earlier been given the rare protection of elite Kremlin secret service personnel, a measure usually only accorded top dignitaries.

Pullout First

Saturday's program for the Hamas leadership comes after Meshaal and his team held a two-hour meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Meshaal said after the talks with Lavrov that only if Israel declared its readiness to pull out of occupied land, return refugees, break down the West Bank separation wall and free all prisoners, "then our side will take serious steps toward securing peace."

He made it clear he was in no rush to enter any kind of talks with Israel, which considers the resistance group a "terrorist" organization.

"The ball is on Israel's side of the court," he told reporters after his talks with Lavrov, and only if Israel declared it would pull out of occupied land, return refugees, tear down a security fence and free all prisoners "then our side will take serious steps toward securing peace."

Lavrov said Hamas must respect the views of the Middle East "quartet" of mediators.

"That means above all the need to stick by all existing agreements, the need to recognize the right of Israel to exist as a partner in negotiations (and) the need to reject all armed methods of settling political questions," he said.

Meshaal said Israel bore the blame for the Middle East impasse and had "always turned away from its responsibilities."

Asked about a truce Hamas has largely observed over the past year, he said Israel "has not stopped its aggression" and, "for that reason, we have not got a special interest or enthusiasm in that kind of ceasefire."

Nevertheless, in a statement after the talks, the Russian foreign ministry said Hamas vowed to stick to the ceasefire provided Israel also refrained from aggressions.

"The willingness of Hamas not to withdraw from the inter-Palestinian agreement on a ceasefire reached in March 2005 was confirmed with the understanding that Israel would also refrain from use of force," it said.

"Not Terrorist"

Meanwhile, Yevgeny Primakov, a former Russian prime minister and respected expert on the region, said Saturday it was "wrong" for the West to continue to treat Hamas as a "terrorist" organization.

Russia does not categorize Hamas as a "terrorist organization" unlike the United States and the European Union.

The veteran diplomat said, at a foreign policy conference in Moscow, the west is also "wrong" to demand immediate formal recognition of Israel and "wrong to starve them financially" as the United States has said it intends to do.

He said "Hamas should be involved in the 'road map' peace plan," the blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks promoted by the Middle East quartet.

Primakov, who also held other key posts including that of foreign minister and Russia's special envoy to the Middle East, said that Hamas's stunning victory was a "complete fiasco" for the US policy in the Middle East.

The Hamas win in the January 25 elections marked "a complete fiasco of US attempts to export democracy to the Middle East."

Hamas swept the Palestinian legislative elections last month, winning a surprising 74 of the 132-seat legislature, against 45 for the ruling Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Several European experts on Mideast affairs have said that the West's rejection of Hamas after its democratic election victory makes its democracy and political reform calls in the region rather insignificant and useless.

The United States and the European Union have reiterated their opposition to talk to Hamas unless it recognizes Israel, "renounces violence" and commits itself to past agreements with Israel. Hamas refused to be "blackmailed."

Pundits and politicians have also said Israel was the main reason behind the dormant peace process mainly due to its expanding settlement policy and "targeted" assassination of resistance figures, the latest of whom was Islamic Jihad's overall commander Khaled Al-Dahduh who was killed in an Israeli raid on Wednesday, March 1.

Ýslamonline

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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