| GEO World|
| Russia defends Medvedev's meeting with Hamas leader|
| Updated at: 2322 PST, Thursday, May 13, 2010|
MOSCOW: Russia on Thursday defended its contacts with Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas after President Dmitry Medvedev met the group's leader, saying the organisation must play a role in peace efforts.
"Hamas is not an artificial structure," Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement. "It is a movement that draws on the trust and sympathy of a large number of Palestinians."
The Russian president, who met exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus Tuesday, later said that no group should be excluded from peace efforts.
Israel reacted angrily to the meeting, however, saying it expected Russia to stand by the Jewish state against "Hamas terror".
"Issues related to the reestablishment of Palestinian unity as an indispensable condition for the success of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were at the centre of the meeting," Nesterenko said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday briefed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on the meeting in Damascus, the foreign ministry said.
Western governments continue to blacklist Hamas, which rules Gaza, as a terrorist group despite its victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006.