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Hamas Praises Russia for Hosting Talks

Leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas are praising Moscow for hosting controversial talks, saying Russia can be a major force in promoting stability in the Middle East.

Interfax news agency Saturday quotes Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal as saying Russia is well-positioned to promote dialogue and to ensure "a balance of forces in the world."

Mashaal is leading a six-member Hamas delegation, now in its second day of talks with Russian leaders in Moscow. The three-day visit marks the group's first talks with a major foreign power.

Earlier Saturday, Mashaal met with Muslim scholar Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Russian Council of Muftis.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Hamas it must abide by the international "road map" to Middle East peace and recognize Israel, but Hamas flatly refused to recognize the nation's right to exist.

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal says his group will not take serious steps toward peace unless Israel withdraws from the territories it occupied in 1967.

Mashaal also reiterated demands for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners, allow refugees to return home, and tear down the barrier it is building along the West Bank.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Hamas pledged to maintain a one-year cease-fire if Israel refrains from using force.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings in Israel.

The United States, European Union and Israel classify Hamas as a terrorist organization, but Russia does not.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.