Hamas, Russians to hold two days of talks in Moscow

A Hamas delegation will hold two days of talks in Moscow beginning Friday and the Russian side will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, a Russian news agency reported Tuesday, citing Russia's special Mideast envoy Alexander Kalugin.

"It cannot be ruled out that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will receive the delegation," Kalugin was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

"We will call on Hamas ... to change its program goals," he said, reiterating that Moscow would call on the militant Palestinian organization to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.

"We stand for their respecting previous agreements, for there not to be terrorist acts," he was quoted as saying, and he stressed that Moscow's aim was to further the goals set by the so-called quartet of Mideast mediators that includes Russia, the United States, the European Union and United Nations.

Hamas leader Khalaad Mashaal will head the delegation, the Islamic militant group said in a statement posted on its Web site.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's invitation to Hamas, made at a news conference in Spain in early February, was the latest bid by Moscow to invigorate its role in Middle East peacemaking, reports the AP.

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