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Israel Continues to Deride Russian Invitation to Hamas

  • Michael Bowman

Israel continues to criticize Russia's invitation to Hamas leaders to visit Moscow in the wake of the militant group's victory in last month's Palestinian elections.

Israel's ambassador in Washington, Daniel Ayalon, says the international community must demand sweeping changes from Hamas, including a complete break from terrorism and full acceptance of Israel's right to exist. Appearing on CNN's Late Edition program, Ayalon said Russia is undermining what should be a unified message to Hamas.

"It is very puzzling, and, I would say, troubling, because the Russians were part of the 'quartet,' which took a decision a week ago of no contact with Hamas unless they change," he said. "By breaching the unified position of the international community against a terror organization, they compromise our intention to bring about a change."

The quartet consists of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia. Russian officials have said they plan to emphasize the need for Hamas to reform itself in any meetings with the group's leadership.

Appearing on CBS's Face the Nation program, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated the Bush administration is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding the Russian invitation to Hamas.

"The quartet has signed on to a statement that says a Palestinian government must recognize Israel's right to exist, must give up violence, must accept the two-state solution, and so on," she said. "The Russians assure us that, after President Putin's comments, that anything they say to Hamas will simply be to reinforce that message."

Secretary Rice noted that Russia, unlike the United States and the European Union, does not regard Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Sitting next to the Israeli ambassador on Late Edition was the Palestinian representative to the United States, Afif Safieh, who predicted that the international community's concern over Hamas' leadership will prove unwarranted.

"I believe that Hamas is going to behave with great responsibility, surprising many," said Safieh. "I personally believe that Hamas will be reflecting Palestinian preferences for a convincing peace process, which was not the case for the last 15 years. They are aware that they do not have a mandate to go against the peace process which our people aspire for."

Hamas leaders have said they plan on traveling to Moscow later this month. Israeli officials have said that, as matters now stand, they have no intention of dealing with the incoming Palestinian government. Ambassador Ayalon said that if Hamas accepts Israel's right to exist, renounces terrorism, disarms, and actively fights against terrorism, then Israel would reconsider its position.

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