Arriving Friday in Moscow for talks with top Russian political leaders, officials with the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, now the top party in the Palestinian government, emphasized the importance of the world community focusing on the illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian land.
While Israeli and US officials have been pressuring Hamas to recognize Israel, Hamas leaders made it clear that this will not be on the table for discussion during the three-day meeting in Moscow.  "The issue of recognition (of Israel) is a decided issue", said Hamas’ exiled political leader, Khaled Mashaal, upon arrival in Moscow for talks with Russian officials.  "We don’t intend to recognize Israel."

Sami Abu Zuhri, another Hamas leader, said Friday morning that this meeting is important, as it will give Hamas leaders a chance to present the view of the movement to the Russian leaders and will put a brake on the Israel-US attempts to isolate Hamas.

Abu Zuhri added that Hamas leaders will call for the Russian people to support the Palestinian people and encourage Europeans to do the same.  Another Hamas representative, Osama Hamdan, added that the movement is grateful for Russia’s political and moral support, "but it would welcome a discussion of possible economic cooperation too."

Russia is a member of the so-called ‘Quartet for Mid-East Peace’, consisting of the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

Russia’s special Middle East envoy, Alexander Kalugin, said the aim of the talks was not to dictate conditions to Hamas but to use persuasion.

"We’re not going to put forward demands. We’ll seek to convince them that now is the time to take responsible decisions. If you come to power and form a government, you must understand you are assuming a great responsibility", Kalugin said Thursday in an interview with NTV television.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be meeting with the Hamas leaders, apparently succumbing to Israeli pressure to not meet the Palestinian leaders himself.

After a Middle East tour last week by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice that failed to isolate Hamas, the US and Israel are finding themselves in an increasingly unsupported position by refusing to recognize the political aspirations of Hamas.

The talks in Russia are supported by France, and will be followed by a visit by Hamas to South Africa to meet with political leaders there — leaders who have considerable experience in mediating conflict, after overcoming an ‘apartheid’ system that divided black and white populations in South Africa, in 1994.  Many observers, both Palestinian and Israeli, have compared the current Israeli occupation and control of Palestinian land and population to the apartheid system of South Africa.  International groups, nations, churches and associations have called for an economic boycott of Israel in a "pressure campaign" similar to the campaign waged against the apartheid regime in South Africa during the 1980s.