June 28, 2007 / 2:38 PM / 12 years ago

Russia to keep contacts with Hamas: diplomat

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia intends to keep up its contacts with Hamas, a senior Foreign Ministry official said on Thursday, rejecting Western calls to isolate the Palestinian militant group after its takeover of the Gaza Strip.

“The ‘divide and conquer policy’ is not helping to solve the conflict,” said Oleg Ozerov, deputy head of the ministry’s Middle East directorate.

The United States and the European Union pledged to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and sideline Hamas financially and diplomatically after its armed wing defeated his Fatah forces in a Gaza civil war two weeks ago.

Abbas has since pulled Fatah out of a unity government with Hamas and formed an emergency administration in the West Bank.

“If there is any solution to the conflict at all, it is in a dialogue between the two leading Palestinian forces,” Ozerov told a news conference on Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visit to the Middle East earlier this week.

Russia had already been out of step with other members of the Middle East peacekeeping Quartet since last year, when it invited senior Hamas officials to Moscow soon after they won a Palestinian parliamentary election.

Moscow said Hamas was democratically-elected and should not be ignored. Washington and the EU say they will have no dealings with the group unless it accepts Israel’s right to exist, renounces violence and recognizes existing peace deals.

“We recognize President Abbas and the government he has formed,” said Ozerov. “But we cannot ignore the fact that more than half of the seats in the legitimately elected parliament belong to Hamas.”

Ozerov said Russia — which with the United Nations, the European Union and the United States form the Quartet — did not consider its contacts with Hamas a mistake. “Russia ... will keep up contacts with all parties,” he said.

Ozerov said that no one, including Israel, would benefit from a protracted feud between Hamas and Fatah.

“There should be no Fatah-land and Hamas-stan,” he said. “After all, talks with Israel require a consolidated Palestinian partner.”

Ozerov said he believed the latest Palestinian feud would be resolved.

“Factional conflicts have happened (before) between the Palestinian groups,” he said. “And every time they managed to make a deal,” he said. “We believe that such a prospect is still there.”

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