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Israel Criticizes Russian Invitation to Hamas


Israel has sharply criticized Russia's decision to open a dialogue with the Islamic militant group Hamas, following its victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections last month. Israel is seeking an international boycott of Hamas.

Russia's decision to invite Hamas to Moscow for talks topped the agenda at Israel's weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. The Cabinet warned Russia against granting legitimacy to a group responsible for suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, European Union and the United States, and Israeli officials charged that Russia is defying the will of the international community.

"We actually think we see the emergence of a clear international consensus that if a group of extreme terrorists, and that is Hamas in its present form, is to take over the Palestinian government, then the international community will relate to that government as a pariah regime," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

Russia says it does not see Hamas as a terrorist organization, and it plans to persuade the group to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas rejects those demands. But the group seeks international legitimacy, and it has welcomed the opportunity to open a dialogue with Russia, hoping that other nations will follow suit.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains in critical but stable condition, a day after he was rushed into emergency surgery with a life threatening stomach problem. Doctors removed part of his large intestine. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed relief at the Cabinet meeting.

"We are encouraged by the results of the surgery," Mr. Olmert said. But medical experts are pessimistic because Mr. Sharon has been in a coma since a massive stroke five weeks ago. They say his chances for recovery, which were already poor, are now even worse.

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