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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hamas Seeks an End to the Embargo

Russian diplomats continued to widen the crack in the shell of international isolation surrounding the radical Palestinian Hamas movement, playing host Monday to its leader, Khaled Mashaal.

Mashaal, on a two-day visit to Moscow, came seeking support for lifting a Western aid embargo from the Palestinian government.

"Our goal is to encourage the international community to start cooperating with the Palestinian government and to exert pressure on Israel to recognize the Palestinian state's right to exist," Mashaal told journalists as he arrived in Moscow on Monday morning.

Mashaal met on Monday with Alexander Saltanov, a deputy foreign minister and Russia's representative to the so-called Quartet, which is working to foster Middle East peace. The Quartet also includes the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

"They discussed a wide range of issues related to the Middle East, including relations between Palestine and Israel, and tensions between Palestinian factions," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet Mashaal on Tuesday, the spokesman said. While no meeting between Mashaal and President Vladimir Putin had been officially scheduled, the diplomat did not rule that out.

Last March, Putin invited a Hamas delegation led by Mashaal to Moscow following the group's victory at the polls in the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel or to rule out violence. Western governments halted aid to the Palestinian Authority after it formed its government last year.

During last year's visit, Russian officials tried to persuade Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence -- to no avail.

This time around, no such lobbying is expected. Special Middle East envoy Alexander Kalugin said Monday that Russian officials would not press Hamas on any key issues.

"We do not plan to exert any pressure but to clearly explain what the international community expects from the new Palestinian Authority," he told Interfax.

In February, Hamas and its chief rival, the Fatah faction, led by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, agreed to form a unity government. The hope was to end the Western embargo and put an end to infighting.

Russia is the only member of the Quartet, which met last week in Berlin, that has pledged to support the Palestinian coalition government.

The next Quartet meeting is set for March 13.

This is the last leg of a trip for Mashaal that also included Egypt and Iran. While in Moscow, Mashaal will try to win more backing for the coalition government. His trip comes at the same time that Russia is trying to boost its status as a power broker in the Middle East, said Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Moscow-based Institute for Middle East Studies.

The Moscow meeting will have little, if any, impact on Palestinian-Israeli relations, Satanovsky said.

For Russian officials, the Mashaal visit marks a win-win scenario.

"If there is any improvement in the Middle East following these consultations, Russia will say this is because of its involvement," Satanovsky said. "If things get worse, Moscow will say that it has done more than anyone else to prevent conflict."

Walter Posch, an analyst with the EU's Institute for Security Studies, called the latest Hamas visit "an example of Russian realpolitik." Unlike the West, which refuses to deal with the group, Russian officials have no problem meeting with the people who are really in control in the Palestinian Authority, Posch said.