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Despite a protest by Russia, the Likud on Thursday decided to continue broadcasting an election videoclip which singles out Russian President Vladimir Putin as the only world leader who has made overtures to Hamas since the party swept the Palestinian Authority legislative elections last month.
"Why play the Russian card?" Russian Embassy spokesman Anatoly Yurkov asked. "I don't think that's very fair," he complained, and wondered how the Likud's public relations decision would affect future relations between the party, which is trying to attract the Russian vote, and the Russian government.
Likud campaign chairman Gideon Sa'ar responded to Yurkov's criticism by declaring that there was nothing offensive to Putin in the campaign clip.
The clip says: "It wasn't Putin who allowed Hamas to run in the PA elections in Jerusalem. It wasn't Putin whose second-in-command jumped up to hold talks with Hamas. It definitely wasn't Putin who gave Hamas NIS 250 million. It was Olmert who rolled out a welcome carpet for Hamas. Putin just painted it red."
"If anything, Israel should be offended that Putin invited Hamas leaders for an official visit," Sa'ar insisted.
Sa'ar also rejected what he characterized as an attempt to interfere with the election process of a country that guarantees free speech, and declared that "under no circumstances" would the Likud apologize to Russia.
"The Likud respects Putin, but we have a dispute with him for inviting the leaders of the Hamas terrorist organization to Moscow," Likud spokesman Ronen Moshe said Thursday.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.