Israel to Keep 'Low Profile' Over Russian Invitation to Hamas

Egypt: World shouldn't judge Hamas before it takes power; Hamas envoys to travel to Saudi Arabia.

Israel has decided to "lower its profile" in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invitation to Hamas for talks in Moscow. A government source in Jerusalem said Israel prefered to lean on the U.S. administration, which has demanded that the Russians keep to the decision of the Quartet.

"Russia is part of the Quartet, and if it behaves differently, it will have problems with its partners," the source said.

The United States told the Prime Minister's Bureau over the weekend that the Russians had assured Washington there is no change in their position. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Russia Friday to send a strong message to Hamas to halt its violence. However, Hamas said Saturday it did not expect Russia to impose any conditions on the group.

The Quartet, made up of the U.S., Russia, China and the European Union, said two weeks ago that the condition for talks with the new Palestinian government would be a pledge by all its ministers to non-violence, the recognition of Israel, and the acceptance of all prior agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

Hamas representatives confirmed Saturday they plan to travel to Moscow later this month for talks with Putin, a trip that has enraged Israeli leaders who fear that the international community's resolve to shun the Islamic group is weakening.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke Saturday with her French counterpart Philippe Douste-Blazy following Paris' statement supporting Putin's move. Douste-Blazy told Livni that France stood unequivocably behind the Quartet's three conditions.

Livni: No talks on basic conditionsFollowing her return from the U.S. Friday, Livni said: "Hamas is a terror organization, and that is how it should be treated. The decision by the Quartet, of which Russia is a member, set pre-conditions, and only if they are met will the Palestinian Authority have legitimacy, and the Palestinians must adopt them clearly. The fundamental, basic conditions are not up for negotiation."

Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit on Friday accused Putin of "stabbing Israel in the back."

Russia's Foreign Ministry defended Putin's decision, saying a dialogue with Hamas must be started immediately to get the Mideast peace process back on track. It said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had discussed the issue with U.S., European and U.N. counterparts.

"The Russian side is convinced that in the interests of guaranteeing prospects for restoring the process of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement on the basis of the road map, it is necessary not to drag out the beginning of talks with Hamas," the ministry said.

"We are going to present our positions... about the political developments and issues related to the rights of our people," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. "Russia will listen to Hamas, and Hamas will listen to Russia."

Although an official date for the visit has not been set, Abu Zuhri said Saturday he expects it to take place in the second half of the month. Russian Mideast envoy Alexander Kalugin said the visit could take place by the end of the month, the Russian news agency Interfax reported Saturday.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is to arrive in Israel on Sunday for his first visit here since taking office. Steinmeier will meet with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Sunday and with Livni tomorrow. He will also meet with Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz, and will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Report: Haniyeh tapped as Hamas' choice for PMHamas has decided its candidate for prime minister will be Ismail Haniyeh, the group's number one man in the Palestinian Legislative Council, according to a report published Saturday by the Saudi-based Asharq Al Awsat newspaper.

According to the report, Hamas leaders in exile and in the Palestinian territories prefer Haniyeh over Mahmoud Zahar. Zahar has more sway in the Gaza Strip, but was placed seventh on the Hamas list ahead of the January 25 parliamentary elections.

Haniyeh announced on Friday that the organization has concluded internal consultations regarding the formation of the Palestinian Authority government, and will announce its decisions soon. He added that since Hamas is the largest faction in the parliament, it must be responsible for forming the next government.

The newspaper report also said that a Hamas delegation had secretly traveled to Jordan a few days ago to make preparations for the return of Khaled Meshal, the group's political leader, to Jordan. Meshal was exiled from Jordan seven years ago.