Hamas leader invited to Moscow as Russia seeks greater Mideast involvement

Invitation comes days after Russia reissues offer to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians

In this file photo taken on January 23, 2018 Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech in Gaza City (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
In this file photo taken on January 23, 2018 Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech in Gaza City (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The top leader of the Hamas terror group said Wednesday he has received an invitation to make an official visit to Moscow, as Russia steps up its efforts to become involved in mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The office of Ismail Haniyeh said the invitation was delivered by a visiting Russian diplomat. The statement did not elaborate on the purpose of the visit. Russia maintains high-level contact with Hamas, which Israel, the US and the European Union classify as a terrorist group.

Haniyeh was elected as Hamas’ top leader last year. His predecessor, Khaled Mashaal, visited Moscow frequently.

In 2007, a year after winning parliamentary elections, Hamas, which openly seeks to destroy Israel, drove out the Western-backed Palestinian Authority from Gaza and took over the coastal enclave.

Russia has hosted several rounds of talks aimed at forging reconciliation between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia was willing to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, and that stability in the region could not be reached until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends the Mediterranean dialogues conference in Rome, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

“It is impossible to create stability in the Middle East, including in Libya and Iraq, without a solution to the oldest regional problem, the Palestinian problem,” said Lavrov, who was on a two-day trip to Rome.

“We support the need for a resumption of direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We confirm again our offer from several years ago to host a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Russia without any preconditions,” he said.

The offer came as relations between the Palestinians and the US, the traditional Mideast peace mediators, are at an all-time low.

The Trump administration’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace is expected to be rolled out in the coming months.

But the plan is unlikely to be welcome by either side, especially with the Palestinian Authority boycotting the Trump administration since its recognition last December of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. The PA has vowed to oppose the “deal of the century.” Israel’s shaky right-wing coalition government, meantime, is down to a majority of just 61 in the 120 seat Knesset after Avigdor Liberman resigned as defense minister to protest last week’s Gaza ceasefire.

Although the Trump administration has been touting its peace plan for months, details of it have been scant, and the Palestinians have vowed not to cooperate with US efforts.

Israel has also maintained that only the US can mediate the conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP/ Pool/Yuri Kadobnov)

Jerusalem’s relations with Moscow have also been tense in recent months since the downing of a Russian plane over Syria during an Israeli strike.

Even though the plane was shot down by Syrian air defense, Moscow blamed Israel, saying the IAF used the Russian aircraft as cover and did not give the Russians proper warning. Israel denies both charges.

Also Friday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said he would visit Moscow on December 21 for talks with Lavrov.

“I will personally visit Moscow on December 21 at Lavrov’s invitation. We will, of course, discuss not only bilateral relations with the Russian Federation but also… possible breakthroughs in the political process and Russian-level efforts to restore the political process to its right track,” Malki told Sputnik on the sidelines of the Mediterranean Dialogues forum in Rome.

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