Stand firm against Hamas, Israel urges international community

Israel’s foreign minister today cautioned the international community against going down the “slippery slope” of legitimising Hamas, criticising Russia’s decision to invite the militant group to Moscow for talks.

But another Cabinet member said Israel would not respond harshly to the invitation, and Israeli government officials said Israel was inclined to let the US take the lead in pressuring Russia to maintain a tough stand against Hamas.

Meanwhile, Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it doesn’t matter whether Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction, stacks its incoming Cabinet with professionals.

“Israel’s position is clear,” Olmert said. “The moment the Palestinian parliament is sworn in, the Palestinian Authority becomes a Hamas Authority.”

Hamas, branded a terrorist group by the US and Europe, expects to form a new Cabinet within weeks. The new Palestinian parliament is to be sworn in on Thursday.

Hamas leaders confirmed yesterday they plan to travel to Moscow this month for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They said they did not expect Russia to impose conditions for the trip, despite US calls for Moscow to send a clear message that Hamas must halt attacks on Israel and recognise the Jewish state.

Putin extended the invitation to Hamas last week, following its sweeping victory in Palestinian elections last month. The invitation, later supported by France, has infuriated Israel, which fears the international resolve to shun the militant group is weakening.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni urged the international community to stand firm against Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings.

“The Russian position is currently not accepted in the international community,” Livni told Israel Radio. “Part of the danger is going down the slippery slope of first talking, then starting to understand why, then supporting with money, then granting legitimacy. This is a phenomenon that needs to be acted against.”

With Hamas issuing mixed messages about the future of its military activities, Livni cautioned the world against accepting vague Hamas statements. “There is no negotiation here with Hamas about what it will and will not agree to,” she said. “The conditions here are very clear, the situation is black and white.”

Hamas, while adhering to its violent ideology, has voiced willingness to agree to a long-term truce if Israel would reciprocate. Hamas has largely honoured a year-old cease-fire.

Putin’s invitation weakens the stand recently taken by the so-called Quartet of Mideast peace negotiators, comprising Russia, the US, the European Union and the UN. The Quartet, which backs the “road map” peace plan, has called on Hamas to renounce violence and recognise Israel, and has threatened to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed aid to the Palestinian Authority once Hamas takes power.

On the sidelines of Israel’s Cabinet meeting, Minister Tzahi Hanegbi said Israel would try to persuade the Russian president not to legitimise Hamas.

Russia’s “trying to work separately will diminish the efforts to make sure that Palestinians will not adopt the values and behaviour of a terrorist organisation,” Hanegbi said.

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