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(photo credit: Associated Press)
Cracks are appearing in the diplomatic wall Israel is trying to build to isolate Hamas, as French and Turkish leaders made comments over the weekend reflecting Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for a dialogue with Hamas.
France indicated on Friday that it supported Putin's move, even though a Foreign Ministry spokesman said that France won't itself have contacts with Hamas.
Putin said Thursday that Russia was maintaining its contacts with Hamas and planned to invite the group's leadership to Russia in the near future.
A top Russian envoy said that a Hamas delegation could travel to Moscow by the end of the month, the Russian news agency Interfax reported Saturday.
Interfax cited Alexander Kalugin, Russia's special envoy to the Middle East, as saying that the Foreign Ministry was trying to coordinate the dates and which Hamas officials would be attending.
"The delegation is likely to be led by head of Hamas's political wing, Khaled Mashaal, because he has led the delegations that have visited Arab countries of late," Kalugin said.
Denis Simonneau, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that France shares "with Russia the goal to bring Hamas to the positions which allow us to reach the goal of two states living in peace and security. As long as we remain within the framework of the goals and principles that we have set for ourselves, we consider that this initiative can contribute to advancing our positions," he said, referring to the three conditions the Quartet has demanded of Hamas: to disarm and disavow terrorism, recognize Israel and accept previous agreements with it.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reported as saying Thursday that he would invite Hamas in his capacity as a party leader and that when the party takes over the Palestinian Authority government, its officials would be invited as representatives of the Palestinian people.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also said Thursday that the international community should give Hamas some time. "Hamas won the elections, but they have never been in government; they need time to organize themselves," he said. "We must also understand that this is not the first time that an armed movement transformed itself into a political party. There are lots of examples. And I urge Hamas to go down the same route."
Meanwhile, following furious reactions in Israel to Putin's move, which included Education Minister Meir Sheetrit calling it a stab in the back, Avigdor Lieberman saying Jerusalem should recall its ambassador to Moscow in protest and Binyamin Netanyahu writing a letter of protest to Putin, Moscow passed on a message of clarification to Israel.
According to the message, Moscow only wanted to meet Hamas to pass on the international community's position that it needed to renounce violence and disarm, recognize Israel and accept previous agreements.
Senior diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that Israel had no interest in escalating a diplomatic crisis with Moscow over the issue, and for that reason would not recall its ambassador or issue a demarche. The officials said that Israel was satisfied that the US had taken a firm position on this and articulated its opposition to the Russian stance.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by phone on Friday with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, and expressed, according to the State Department, the need to focus the talks with Hamas on the demands put forward by the Quartet.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice was assured by the Russians that they will demand that Hamas moderated and adhered to the conditions of the international community.
"We have been assured that should the Russian government meet with Hamas, that they would send that - that the meeting would be with the intent of sending that clear, strong message," McCormack said in his Friday press briefing.
The Russian decision to invite Hamas leaders to Moscow caught Washington by surprise because Russia had not updated the US on its plans and did not mention the possibility of opening a dialogue with Hamas at the Quartet meeting in London.
The State Department did not voice opposition to the meeting itself, saying "individual countries will make sovereign decisions about issues related to aid, issues related to contact."
The US itself is not intending to engage in dialogue with the Hamas, which is on the its list of terror groups and with whom any contact is forbidden.
Senior US administration officials, including President George W. Bush and Rice, promised Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni last week, that the US would not waiver on the Hamas issue and would not compromise until the organization accepts all demands of the international community.
Livni, who said in a New York Sun interview that she was concerned about a slippery slope effect following the Russian statement, called French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to clarify the French position.
According to a statement put out by Livni's office, Douste-Blazy said that France stood by the three conditions that any future PA government would have to accept, and that France would not divert from this position.
Nathan Guttman and AP contributed to this report.