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    Russia will continue to maintain its contacts with the radical Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, the Russian foreign minister said on Tuesday

    Russia will continue to maintain its contacts with the radical Palestinian group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, the Russian foreign minister said on Tuesday.

    "We have maintained contact with Hamas since the majority of Palestinians voted for the movement in the elections, which were acknowledged by everyone as free and democratic," Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with his Israeli counterpart Avik Liberman.

    The two largest Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, split in June 2007, some 18 months after Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. In the ensuing armed clashes between the two rival parties, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and pushed the ruling Fatah movement out of the enclave.

    Lavrov, who is conducting a tour in the Middle East from June 28-30, said it is necessary to keep daily direct contact with Hamas to solve the issue of Gaza's economic development.

    "This is not an easy process, but if we keep working on it, we will achieve results," he said.

    Liberman told a joint news conference with Lavrov in Jerusalem that "there is no chance that the [united] Palestinian government will be formed by 2012," the year mooted by the quartet of Middle East negotiators for achieving a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

    Israeli-Palestinian direct peace talks came to a halt in December 2008, when Israel launched an attack on the Gaza Strip in a bid to put an end to the firing of homemade rockets at southern Israel by Palestinian militants based in the enclave. The conflict left 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

    Palestinians have so far cited ongoing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, as a main obstacle to resuming peace talks.

    "The role of the international quartet is entirely positive, primarily in two spheres: the economy and security," Liberman said.

    Russia, along with the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union, is a member of the Middle East Quartet, which mediates peace efforts in the region. The Quartet last met in Moscow in March.

    JERUSALEM, June 29 (RIA Novosti)

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