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Russia downgrades ties with Hamas

  • Story Highlights
  • Russia downgrades contacts with Palestinian militant group Hamas
  • Vladimir Putin endorses Mahmoud Abbas as legitimate Palestinian leader
  • Abbas locked in power struggle with Hamas since Islamists seized Gaza
  • Abbas currently visiting Moscow; appeals to Russia to send more aid
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MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Russia said on Tuesday it had downgraded its ties with the Hamas Islamist group, in a show of support for visiting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Putin, right, endorsed Abbas as legitimate leader of the Palestinian people after formal talks in Moscow.

Abbas is locked in a feud with the Hamas group for control of the Palestinian territories. Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip last month and Abbas responded by dismissing a Hamas-led government.

Russia established high-level contacts with Hamas after it won Palestinian elections last year, even though Western powers shunned the militant group because of its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

"Recently, we have somewhat downgraded the level of contacts with Hamas. Now we are pursuing a pragmatic goal of trying to influence them directly and indirectly to resume national unity," First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov told reporters after Putin and Abbas met in the Kremlin.

Asked if there would be any high-level meetings with Hamas in the near future, Denisov said: "No such meetings are being planned."

Earlier, Putin endorsed Abbas as legitimate leader of the Palestinian people and backed his efforts to end the rift with Hamas.

"I want to assure you that we will support you as legitimate leader of the Palestinian people. I am sure you will do everything to restore unity," Putin told Palestinian President Abbas at the start of talks in the Kremlin.

Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.

Abbas urged Putin to send more aid to help ease hardship in the Palestinian territories. Western countries cut direct aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas came to power last year, but aid has resumed since Abbas fired the group.

"Despite the coup in Gaza, we feel responsibility for the life of the people and call on friendly states to supply humanitarian aid to our people, in order not to worsen the humanitarian situation," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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