Hamas leader presses for removal of international aid embargo during Russia visit.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Hamas's supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, on Monday urged the world to cooperate with the Palestinian government following a power-sharing deal with Fatah and pressed for the removal of an international aid embargo, Russian news agencies reported.
Visiting one of the few nations with a stake in Middle East peace activity where he is welcome, Mashaal thanked Russia for its support on the aid issue, the reports said. The visit appeared to be part of a Palestinian effort to enlist more vocal backing from Moscow after failing to persuade the European Union to end the embargo.
In the second visit to Russia by a high-level Hamas delegation since the group came to power in parliamentary elections last year, Mashaal suggested that that the Quartet of Mideast peace brokers - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - should embrace the deal for a unity government and lift the aid embargo, the reports said.
"Our goal is to begin the international community's interaction with the Palestinian government in order to provide for a political atmosphere that would foster the creation of a Palestinian state," RIA-Novosti quoted Mashaal as saying after his arrival.
The power-sharing deal, reached during talks in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, is "a very important step that should end the embargo," ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying.
Millions of dollars in crucial foreign aid was cut off after Hamas, which the EU, the US and others consider a terrorist group, gained control of the Cabinet and the legislature through the January 2006 elections.
The EU has said the funds will only be paid if the new government is committed to peace with Israel. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week reiterated the Quartet's demand that any new Palestinian government recognize Israel, as Hamas has refused to do.
Before a Quartet meeting last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he hoped the embargo could be lifted, Russian news agencies reported.
"We value the position of Russia in relation to removing the blockade, which is causing the Palestinian people to suffer," RIA-Novosti quoted Mashaal as saying.
Russia has also been more positive about the unity government plan than the United States and the EU, and Mashaal's Moscow visit reflected the difference between Russia's attitude and those of the United States and most European countries toward the group. President Vladimir Putin has sought to boost Russia's role in Mideast peacemaking, in part through ties with Soviet-era Arab allies.
As with other international disputes, such as the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, Moscow argues that it is more effective to seek influence with Hamas through cooperation than through punishment or isolation.
France has also appeared warmer to the power-sharing deal than other European nations: the foreign minister said Saturday that France would be "ready to cooperate with" the new government.
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