Hamas chief’s visit to Moscow postponed, senior official in terror group says

Ismail Haniyeh was expected to meet Russia’s FM in Moscow on January 15; postponement comes after report Kremlin rebuffed Israeli protest

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivering a speech in Gaza City, on January 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivering a speech in Gaza City, on January 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh’s visit to Moscow next week has been postponed, according to Musa Abu Marzouk, a senior official in the terror group.

Abu Marzouk said Thursday that he and Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister and presidential Middle East envoy, had spoken over the phone about the postponement of Haniyeh’s visit to the Russian capital and other matters.

In a tweet, Abu Marzouk said that he and the senior Russian official discussed “the postponement of the chairman of the Hamas Politburo’s visit to another time because of the [Russian] foreign minister’s busy state of affairs.”

Abu Marzouk, however, emphasized that Russia was still “keen” to host Haniyeh.

In late December, Bogdanov announced that Haniyeh and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were scheduled to meet in Moscow on January 15, according to Russia’s state-run Tass news agency.

Bogdanov said at the time that Haniyeh and Lavrov would discuss “the situation in the Middle East, the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and the task of restoring Palestinian unity.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, November 2, 2018. (Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP)

In mid-December, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, a London-based Arabic daily, reported that Russia was planning to make efforts to assist embittered rivals Fatah and Hamas in achieving reconciliation, citing “well-placed” sources.

Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads since 2007, when the terror group forcibly ousted the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip.

Over the past several years, the two parties have agreed to a number of reconciliation deals, but have failed to implement them.

Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

The sources told al-Sharq al-Awsat that Russia’s intention to advance a possible rapprochement between the Palestinian factions was a “major reason” for its decision to invite Haniyeh to Moscow.

Also in mid-December, Channel 10 news reported that Israeli government officials had lodged furious protests with Russia over its invitation to the Hamas leader, citing Israeli officials.

The report, however, said Russian officials rejected Israel’s objections, noting that the Jewish state was itself talking to the terror group.

For the past several months, Israel has engaged in indirect talks with Hamas, mediated by Egypt and other international parties, about Gaza.

According to the sources who spoke to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Russia had informed “all parties,” including Israel, that reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas would help to maintain calm and support the future establishment of a Palestinian state.

Russia has previously made efforts to advance reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. In January 2018, Moscow hosted a number representatives from the two rival parties and several other Palestinian factions to discuss mending the internal Palestinian rift. In May 2011, Russia also hosted Fatah and Hamas officials to bolster reconciliation efforts.

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