Hamas' Moscow Trip Angers Israel
By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI, Associated Press Writer
Fri Feb 24, 7:31 AM ET
JERUSALEM - A top-level Hamas delegation will travel to Moscow next week for meetings with Russian officials, a Hamas official said Friday, part of the militant group's efforts to gain international legitimacy after sweeping a Palestinian parliamentary election.
Russia's invitation to Hamas angered Israel, which is seeking to isolate the militant group after its victory in the Jan. 25 election. Israel also condemned Turkey after Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul met in Ankara with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
Hamas, responsible for dozens of suicide bombings in Israel, is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state. Israel, the United States and the European Union list Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Israel has said it will have no ties with the new Hamas-led Palestinian government unless the militant group denounces violence, recognizes Israel's right to exist and accepts past peace deals.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that the Moscow talks with Hamas leaders would be used to pull them into the Mideast peace process. Lavrov said Russian officials would negotiate according to the agreed position of the so-called quartet of Mideast peace mediators: Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.
The Hamas delegation to Moscow, to be headed by Mashaal, is to arrive in Moscow on March 3, according to an announcement posted on the group's Web site. Sami Abu Zohri, a Hamas spokesman, said the delegation would be in Moscow during the "first few days of March," but would not confirm the exact date.
The Russian Foreign Ministry declined to comment on whether a date had been set for the meetings.
Israel's Cabinet last Sunday approved an immediate freeze on the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money to the Palestinians. Israel held off on adopting even more drastic measures recommended by security officials, mindful of possible international reaction, but has said it could push ahead with those steps later.
Meanwhile, the army killed seven Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a new round of violence on Thursday and Friday. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and incoming Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh condemned the army's five-day sweep in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus.
Early Friday, the army killed two Palestinians it said were planting bombs along the border fence separating Israel and the coastal area. One of the Palestinians killed is the son of Hamas lawmaker Abdel Fattah Dukhan.
The army also launched an airstrike early Friday at a group of Gaza militants who it said were firing rockets at Israeli targets. Two Palestinians were lightly wounded in the attack.
In Nablus, thousands of Palestinians, including dozens of armed militants firing in the air, joined a funeral procession for four of the five Palestinians killed Thursday in Balata. One of those killed was Mohammed Shtawi, a leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group linked to Abbas' Fatah Party.
Militants chanted "revenge! revenge! revenge!" on loudspeakers. Rabiya Abu Liel, an al-Aqsa Brigades leader, vowed: "What they did to us we will do to them. They killed our leader so we will kill their leaders."
On Wednesday, Shtawi told an AP reporter that soldiers had surrounded his hideout for five hours that day, but he and several friends slipped away. "They will never catch me," he said at the time.
By early Friday, troops had left Balata. Eight Palestinians were killed in the Balata operation since Sunday. More than 50 Palestinians had been injured by live rounds and rubber-coated steel pellets, Palestinian hospital officials said. The military said 15 fugitives had been arrested.
Abbas warned the operation would endanger a cease-fire that has been in effect for a year, according to the Palestinian WAFA news agency.
In Gaza City on Thursday evening, Hamas backers marched toward the Palestinian parliament building to protest Israel's operation in Nablus. Addressing the rally, Haniyeh denounced the "aggression committed against our people." He said Hamas has a two-pronged program for the people: "One hand resists and the other hand builds."
Also Friday, a Hamas militant was killed in Gaza while improperly handling explosives. Hamas identified the man as Abed Moati Abu Daf, 28, "the most prominent trainer" of militants in Gaza, and said he died on a "training mission."
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