Russia Invites Hamas Leader For Talks in Moscow

Hamas Moscow Russia
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal speaks during an interview with Reuters in Doha October 16, 2014. Reuters/Fadi Al-Assaad

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has invited the exiled leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, for talks in Moscow, a Hamas official has said.

Meshaal, who runs the group's politburo from Doha, met with Lavrov in the Qatari capital on Monday, where the offer was extended, a statement from a Hamas official in Gaza said. Hamas accepted the invitation but said that no date for the talks has been set. Russia has confirmed both Lavrov's meeting with the Hamas leader and the invitation for talks in Moscow, the Associated Press reported.

"The [Russian] foreign minister extended an invitation to the leadership of [Hamas] to visit Moscow and the movement accepted the invitation and the date will be determined later," the official said.

In the official meeting, the pair discussed regional issues and the group's possible reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party, according to Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

Meshaal spoke to Lavrov about the situation in the Gaza Strip following last summer's Gaza conflict, which saw 2,200 Palestinians killed in Israel's Operation Protective Edge. The Hamas leader also discussed "Zionist terrorism in the West Bank and its assaults on Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem" with Russia's top diplomat, the official said.

Since U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Israel failed last year and Iran ceased its financial assistance for the group last month, Hamas has been seeking closer ties with Russia and other regional powers such as Saudi Arabia in an attempt to both internationalise the conflict with Israel and find another financial sponsor for its military activities.

While three of the quartet of Middle East mediators, the U.N., EU and the U.S., reject any interaction with Hamas, Russia has continued to maintain diplomatic relations with the group.

Michael Horowitz, security analyst at Tel Aviv-based geopolitical risk consultancy the Levantine Group, says that Hamas's diplomatic overtures to both Russia and Saudi Arabia may be an attempt to show Hamas's military wing within the Gaza Strip that, while conflict against Israel has drawn to a halt, they are having successes on the world stage to ease tension within the organization.

"Internally these diplomatic successes may serve to alleviate the likely pressure that Hamas's military wing is putting on the political echelon regarding the absence of operations against Israel," he says.

"This pressure is likely high at a time when other salafist-jihadist groups inspired by the Islamic State are accusing them of collaborating with Israel," he adds. "By meeting with high-ranking officials of regional or global powers, the political wing can legitimise such relative absence of military activities."

The last time that the Hamas leader travelled to Moscow was in 2010, where the group discussed how to bring about a restart to peace talks with Israel. Later in 2010, Meshaal met with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Syria. Israel criticised the meeting and expressed its "deep disappointment" at the meeting between the officials.

"Israel has always stood by Russia in its struggle against the Chechnyan terrorism. We expect the same attitude when we are talking about the Hamas terrorism against Israel," an Israeli Foreign Ministry said at the time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Abbas met in Moscow last April to talk over a potential summit which would bring together the different Palestinian factions. It remains unclear if Meshaal's alleged invitation to Moscow was extended with Abbas' prior knowledge.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2006 elections and Abbas's Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank. Both factions entered into a fragile unity government in April last year which subsequently broke down in June almost a year after the Gaza conflict between Palestinian militant groups and the Israeli military.