Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with the political head of the Hamas terror group in Moscow on Monday, in a move likely to aggravate an already strained relationship between Israel and the Kremlin.
During the talks with politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh, Lavrov urged an end to a rift between Hamas and its rival Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to a statement from the Russian foreign ministry. The two also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There was no immediate comment from Hamas. On Saturday, Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nono said the meeting had come at Russia’s request and that the sides would discuss bilateral relations and Israeli “violations.”
Haniyeh’s delegation also included deputy politburo head Saleh Al-Arouri, and Moussa Abu Marzouk and Maher Salah, two senior members of Hamas’s political wing. The trip is expected to last several days.
The visit came amid fraying ties between Jerusalem and Moscow, largely over Israel’s support for Ukraine since Russia’s February 24 invasion of its neighbor. Russia has sought to shut down the Jewish Agency from operating in its territory and has indicated little patience for airstrikes, attributed to Israel, on Iranian targets inside Syria.
Wary of Russia’s influence in Syria, Israel has refused to offer Ukraine weaponry or even many defensive measures but has been outspoken in condemning Russia’s war on Ukraine and the alleged human rights abuses by Russian troops.
Lavrov has met with Haniyeh several times in recent years, as well as with Haniyeh’s predecessor Khaled Mashaal. The two last met in early 2020.
In late 2018, Israel reportedly lodged strong protests with Moscow over another planned meeting between Haniyeh and Lavrov, to no avail.
Many of the meetings have revolved around efforts to advance reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
Moscow has on several occasions hosted representatives from the two rival parties and several other Palestinian factions to discuss mending the internal Palestinian rift.
In May, Lavrov sparked a diplomatic storm after he said that Adolf Hitler “had Jewish blood,” and that Jews are among the worst antisemites.
Russia, which has been increasingly isolated internationally, has sought to enhance ties with its remaining allies in recent months. Last month, it began to deploy Iranian drones in Ukraine to get around Western sanctions, according to reports.