Hamas delegation arrives in Moscow

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MOSCOW, March 3 (RIA Novosti) - A high-profile Hamas delegation arrived in Moscow Friday for high-level talks aimed at ending the international impasse surrounding the radical Islamic movement.

The delegation, headed by Hamas' exiled political leader Khaled Mashaal, will meet top officials from Russia's Foreign Ministry including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov during a three-day visit. The delegation will also meet with representatives of NGOs and prominent Russian Muslims.

Musa Abu Marzuk, Mashaal's deputy and a delegation member, said ahead of the visit that Hamas leaders intended to discuss the situation in the Middle East following Hamas's victory in the January 25 parliamentary election.

The quartet of international mediators - the United Nations, Russia, the United States, and the European Union - have demanded that Hamas recognize Israel, renounce violence, and meet commitments pledged by previous Palestinian leaders.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel, saying talks with the country can only resume if Israel withdraws from Palestinian lands occupied in 1967 and gives Palestinian refugees the right of return. Yet Hamas leaders also admit that contacts with Israel are vital as the country has handed over tax and customs revenue worth at least $50 million collected on behalf of the Palestinians.

The West has been attempting to put pressure on Hamas, which unlike Russia it sees as a terrorist organization, and has so far withheld international recognition.

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