mashaal lavrov 298.88.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israel recently protested comments made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that were viewed in Jerusalem as equating Hamas terrorism and Israeli actions, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Lavrov, in an interview with the Arab media in Moscow on March 20, was asked about the Hamas delegation's recent visit to Moscow.
"As to the Hamas visit to Moscow, I believe this first contact was useful," Lavrov said, according to a transcript of the interview that appears on the Russian Foreign Ministry's Web site.
"After Hamas had won in legitimate, democratic, free and fair elections and received a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council, there were no grounds not to forge contacts with this organization, which must become conscious of its responsibility for the fate of the Palestinian people.
"Particularly since throughout its previous activity, apart from the armed struggle - a form which we disapprove, just as we do violence from the other side - Hamas has been doing a lot to solve economic and social problems in the Palestinian territories." Political sources in Jerusalem expressed "astonishment" at the "insinuation" that Hamas and Israeli actions were somehow equivalent.
"Russia, of all countries, should be the first to understand that fighting terrorism is not the same as terrorism itself," one source said.
The protest to Lavrov's comments come against the background of Israeli-Russian tensions stemming both from what Israel considers Russia's tepid position regarding the Iranian nuclear issue and because - along with Turkey - Russia was among the first countries to invite a Hamas delegation to visit following the Palestinian Legislative Council elections.
According to assessments in Jerusalem, the Russians - during their meetings with the Hamas delegation - did indeed stick to Quartet guidelines and try to impress upon the group that Hamas would not get international legitimacy without first accepting Israel, forswearing terrorism, and accepting the previous agreements with Israel.
What angered Israel, and what is still casting a pall over the relations, is that Israel was not informed of this by Moscow in advance, and heard about it only through the media.
Moscow's invitation to Hamas came soon after Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had taken over their new positions, and Russia's move was widely seen as a "slap in the face" to the new Israeli team.
Indeed, it was a slap that Israel responded to by canceling, due to "technical" reasons, a trip Livni had planned to make to Moscow last month.
Statements like Lavrov's to the Arab press have only exacerbated the situation and given some policy-makers in Jerusalem a sense that Moscow is not sufficiently attuned to Israeli sensitivities.
As a result of this situation, there are some officials in Jerusalem questioning whether Olmert should rush to make a trip to Moscow - as he is sure to do with trips to Washington, Cairo and Amman - soon after he sets up a government.