Israel said to strongly protest Russian invite to Hamas leader

Officials in Moscow reject the complaints, noting Jerusalem has negotiated with the terror group, too, TV report says

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gestures as he attends a meeting with Secretary General of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Thomas Greminger, in Moscow, on November 2, 2018. (Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gestures as he attends a meeting with Secretary General of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Thomas Greminger, in Moscow, on November 2, 2018. (Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP)

Israel has in recent weeks lodged furious protests with Russia over its recent invitation to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to visit Moscow later this month, according to a television report on Tuesday.

The objections were raised both by Israel’s embassy in Moscow and in conversations with the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, Channel 10 reported.

But Russian officials rejected the complaints, noting that Israel was itself talking to Hamas, albeit indirectly. The Hamas delegation is expected in Moscow in late December.

Israel has for months been engaged in indirect talks with Hamas, mediated by Egyptian and UN officials, to reach a ceasefire deal in the Gaza Strip.

During a conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the issue, Israeli Ambassador to Russia Gary Koren also noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the TV station reported.

Lavrov only nodded but did not comment, it said.

Israel ambassador to Russia Gary Koren. (YouTube screenshot)

Israeli-Russian relations have 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 denied both charges.

But Channel 10 reported that an Israeli military delegation returned from Moscow Tuesday, the second visit in a week, with officials saying Moscow appeared to be restoring its normal work relations on security cooperation.

Last week the IDF said a delegation had “reached understandings” with its Russian counterparts and the sides agreed to continue working together.

Lavrov also met Monday with Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog, and told him Russia’s invitation to Haniyeh was part of its effort to prevent an escalation in Gaza.

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

The Palestinian Authority, a rival of Hamas, is also said to be unhappy with the Russian move.

Russia has in the past hosted several rounds of talks aimed at forging reconciliation between Hamas and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

Lavrov has 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.

The offer came as relations between the Palestinians and the US, the traditional 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 the 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.

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