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Hamas leadership denies being officially invited to Moscow - 1

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The leadership of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas dismissed Wednesday earlier reports that it had been officially invited to Moscow for talks.
(Recasts headline, paras 1-3, adds details, background in paras 4-10)

MOSCOW, August 1 (RIA Novosti) - The leadership of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas dismissed Wednesday earlier reports that it had been officially invited to Moscow for talks.

A statement from the Hamas envoy to the Palestinian parliament, Khalil al-Hayya, saying Russian authorities had invited a Hamas delegation to the country, was posted on the group's official Web site earlier today.

"This information is incorrect. We have not received an invitation," senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook told RIA Novosti.

Factional clashes in June saw Hamas fighters wrest control of the Gaza Strip from pro-presidential Fatah loyalists, and left the West Bank in the hands of Fatah, which is backed by the West and Israel. Hamas-controlled Gaza is currently subject to a boycott by Fatah, the U.S, and Israel.

While the other members of the Quartet of Middle East mediators - the UN, the U.S., and the EU - have refused to engage in talks with Hamas, Russia has insisted that all Palestinian factions must be engaged in the peace process, and has highlighted the danger of permanently dividing the Palestinian territories. However, President Vladimir Putin told President Mahmoud Abbas at talks in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia considered him the legitimate leader of all Palestinians.

Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov signaled earlier that Moscow intended to distance itself from the Islamists. However, Abu Marzook said his movement believes both Russia and Hamas stand to gain from ties.

"The nature of relations between the Hamas movement and the Russian foreign minister allows us to say our interaction is useful for both sides - the Russian Federation and Hamas, and not only for one side," he said.

Abu Marzook said the Palestinian president, who ousted Hamas from the government following the Gaza coup, had "taken on a new position" following his visit to Moscow. However, he said Hamas still considers Abbas's position to be was not as progressive as it needs to be.

"We agree that the existing disagreements can only be overcome through dialogue. But we are convinced that such dialogue must be started without preconditions. This is why we consider the position of Abu Mazen [as Mahmoud Abbas is more commonly known in the region] progressive, but not progressive enough," he said.

During his visit to Moscow, Abbas told a press conference that he saw no obstacles to dialogue with Hamas if the group gives up control over the Gaza Strip. He admitted that in the conflict with Hamas, both sides had made mistakes.

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