Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, surprised European Union and U.S. officials by announcing that, unlike the other entities comprising the ‘Quartet’ negotiating Middle East peace, Russia would meet with leaders of the Palestinian Hamas party.
After winning a majority of seats in the Jan. 25th Palestinian legislative elections, the Hamas party has been criticized by the U.S., Israel and the European Union for the party’s refusal to recognize the state of Israel.

"I am profoundly convinced that burning bridges in politics is the easiest thing to do, but it has no perspective, it has no future," he said, continuing, "Preserving our contacts with Hamas, we are willing in the near future to invite the authorities of Hamas to Moscow to carry out talks."
Responding to Putin’s offer, Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader, said, "If we receive an official invitation to visit Russia, we will visit Russia."

Mark Regev, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, complained that Putin’s offer went against the position of the Quartet (U.S., E.U., U.K. and Russia) for Middle East Peace.  "Hamas cannot be a legitimate partner for political dialogue unless it, one, recognizes Israel, two, abandons terrorism and three, accepts the signed agreements".

Regev made no statement on a plan revealed Wednesday by acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel would continue to violate existing signed agreements by expanding settlements in the West Bank and continuing construction of the Annexation Wall deep within Palestinian land — thus annexing the land, extra-legally, and making it part of Israel.  A ‘cease-fire’ negotiated in February of last year between Israel and armed groups, inlcuding Hamas, has been violated by Israeli authorities approximately 24,000 times, including the killing of 180 Palestinians (according to the Palestinian National Informations Center).  Hamas has claimed the killing of one Israeli in the same time period.

Separately, South African President Thabo Mbeki said that he, too, would be willing to meet with the Hamas leadership.  Mbeki had attepted to broker a peace agreement last year among various factions in Zimbabwean internal strife last year, but was largely unsuccessful.  Mbeki expressed hope that a peace process between Israel and Palestine would be more successful.