Russia and Hamas begin dialogue

Palestinian Hamas officials arrived in Russia for first talks with a major foreign power on Friday but poured cold water on hopes of a peace breakthrough by saying they were firm in their refusal to recognise Israel.

"The issue of recognition is a done issue. We are not going to recognise Israel," Mohammed Nazzal, a senior official accompanying exiled Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal, told reporters after their delegation arrived in Moscow.

Although it deals a blow to U.S.-led efforts to isolate Hamas since it swept Palestinian elections in January, Russia's mediation is seen by some in the West as a chance to press the Islamic militant group into embracing more moderate views.

Russia has said that, in talks slated for later on Friday, it would endorse the view of fellow patrons of the "road map" to Israeli-Palestinian coexistence that Hamas must recognise the Jewish state, renounce violence, and accept past peace accords.

The pledge helped quell concern in Israel, which sees Hamas as a spearhead of a more than 5-year-old Palestinian uprising.

After initially condemning Moscow's overtures towards Hamas, Israel adopted a wait-and-see attitude on the talks' results.

Hamas regards the visit as a chance to push its position on the Western stage after winning support in the developing world.

"Our visit to Moscow is a very important step for achieving a breakthrough in our international position," Meshaal said.

"This is a visit that has no conditions. We will listen to the position of Russian officials and we will clarify our own position," he said, reports Reuters.

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