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    Moscow Middle East peace talks will not involve Hamas, Hezbollah

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    Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah will send delegates to a Middle East peace conference in Moscow, Russia's foreign minister said on Monday.

    JERUSALEM, February 16 (RIA Novosti) - Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah will send delegates to a Middle East peace conference in Moscow, Russia's foreign minister said on Monday.

    Sergei Lavrov confirmed earlier in the day that Moscow would host an international peace conference in the first half of 2009 aimed at resolving the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

    "The meeting in Moscow will be attended only by the countries that took part in the conference in Annapolis," Sergei Lavrov said.

    Talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, launched by then-U.S. president George Bush in November 2007 at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, stalled over outbreaks of violence in the Middle East, as well as long-standing disputes over the construction of Jewish settlements and the future status of Jerusalem.

    Israel and most Western countries consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The Palestinian movement seized power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, ousting the internationally recognized Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas, which now controls only the West Bank.

    Hezbollah is a Shiite movement in Lebanon supported by Syria and Iran. An armed conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 left over 1,000 Lebanese and about 160 Israelis dead. Israel and Western states also consider the movement a terrorist organization.

    Israel launched a major assault on Gaza on December 27 in response to frequent rocket barrages of Israeli border territories from the Palestinian enclave. The offensive lasted until January 18 and left over 1,300 Palestinians dead, mostly civilians, and more than 5,300 wounded. Some 50,000 people were also left homeless.

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