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Moscow urges lifting sanctions from Palestine

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - Moscow believes that the Mideast Quartet should show support for the Palestinians for their recent actions, and urges lifting sanctions from them.

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has completed its second Moscow visit. The first was made in March 2006 at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The February 2007 talks were organized at the Palestinians' request.

A year ago, Russian diplomats wanted to understand the intentions of Hamas, whose victory in the January 2006 parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories shocked the world. Hamas was facing an international blockade, and the main goal then was to prevent it.

Russian diplomats and the Hamas delegation mainly exchanged views in 2006. This year they coordinated their actions and discussed possible actions by Hamas and Palestinians in general to win the support of the Mideast Quartet of intermediaries consisting of Russia, the United States, the European Union (EU) and the UN.

Much has changed in the world in the past year. Hamas has revised its stance and relations with its main rival, the Fatah movement led by Mahmoud Abbas. The Quartet is gradually shifting towards Russia's stance, which rejects an economic blockade of Palestinians and a boycott of Hamas.

Russian diplomats told this to their partners in the Mideast Quartet a year ago, and they have been proved right.

The past year saw many tragic mistakes that led to more casualties. No effective action has been taken in the region to promote a peace settlement. The intermediaries have pushed themselves into a deadlock.

That situation, as well as a threat of a civil war and diminishing hopes for a state of their own have encouraged Palestinians to look for compromises among themselves and with the rest of the world.

Islamists came to Moscow several weeks after progress had been achieved at the talks between Hamas and Fatah in Mecca. The two organizations have decided to stop fighting each other and agreed to form a national unity government and elaborate a common foreign policy, notably with regard to Israel.

Hamas has agreed to respect previous agreements reached between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, and recognized the right of Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian National Authority, to hold negotiations with Israel.

Russia welcomed the Mecca accords as soon as their essence was made public. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal that they clearly showed the two organizations were moving towards the principles formulated by the Mideast Quartet, notably the renunciation of violence by Hamas, recognition of Israel as a state and all Palestinian-Israeli agreements, and readiness to work for peace in the region.

The only thing Hamas has not done so far is officially recognize Israel, Lavrov told journalists after his meeting with Mashaal. He added, though, that he had felt during the talks with the Hamas delegation that they recognized Israel de facto.

Mashaal has been saying as much in the past few months, and his words were confirmed by the Islamists' political steps, notably their participation in the parliamentary elections held in the framework of the Palestinian-Israeli agreements, and the intention to join the PLO expressed in Mecca.

The PLO officially recognized Israel's right to exist as a state in 1993.

The above does not mean that a peace settlement has become more probable, because contradictions between Israelis and Palestinians have not been settled. However, Palestinians are now acting jointly, whereas Israel remains politically divided.

The current goal is not to make peace, but to promote trust between the conflicting parties and strengthen the confidence of the international mediators in Hamas. This is why Russia used the talks with Hamas to advise it on the best course of action.

"We discussed the need to maintain the truce and avoid violence," Lavrov said after his talks with Mashaal. He said they also discussed stopping the use of Qassam missiles against Israel and releasing Corporal Gilad Shalit taken hostage by the Palestinians.

On the whole, Russia has recommended that Hamas should move towards the Quartet's principles, one of which stipulates the official recognition of Israel, Lavrov said. Mashaal said Hamas would take Moscow's advice very seriously.

According to Russian officials, the progress achieved in Mecca is "sufficient for lifting economic sanctions from Palestinian territories," although there are still many unresolved problems.

This should be done to facilitate progress in the Middle East. A year ago in Moscow, the Hamas delegation hinted that they would honor the peace agreements reached between the Palestinians and Israel if Israel was prepared to meet them halfway.

The world did not take Hamas' word for it, especially since it had not been clearly expressed. But in Mecca Islamists clearly pledged, and subsequently formalized their intention, to honor the documents signed by the PLO.

This is not enough for Israel, but Moscow believes the Mideast Quartet should in some way commend the Palestinians on their latest actions. One of the ways to do this is to lift economic sanctions.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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