Israel strongly protested Russia's hosting of senior Hamas military operative Saleh al-Arouri, a member of the Hamas delegation that held talks with Russia's Foreign Ministry in Moscow last week. Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin, who met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday, voiced Israel's stance that Arouri's participation in the delegation was unacceptable.
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On September 19, a Hamas delegation headed by Musa Abu Marzook, deputy head of the organization's political bureau, arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister for Middle Eastern Affairs Mikhail Bogdanov. Pictures from the meeting revealed that Arouri participated as a member of the delegation, as first reported by Kan journalist Gal Berger.
Arouri, who was imprisoned in Israel until 2007, has been responsible in recent years for coordinating terrorist activities of Hamas' military wing in the West Bank. For several years he was based in Turkey and communicated instructions on how to carry out attacks, but was expelled following the country's reconciliation agreement with Israel. He then moved to Doha, Qatar, and now lives in Lebanon.
In a conversation with Haaretz, Elkin said that Arouri's visit to Moscow was a central issue in his meeting with Lavrov. He said he told the Russian foreign minister that Israel and Russia have disagreed for years regarding ties with Hamas, but that this case was an exceptionally severe incident.
"I told him that even in contacts with Hamas there are limits that should not be crossed, and this is a classic case in which Israel believes the limit has been crossed," explained Elkin.
During the meeting, Elkin informed Lavrov of a document from the Israel's Foreign Ministry regarding Arouri's involvement in terrorism and the murder of Israelis. Elkin also told Lavrov that Arouri was one of the organizers of the kidnapping of three youths in Gush Etzion in 2014 and that he praised the perpetrators of the attack and took responsibility for it.
"I told Lavrov that I have a personal interest here because the boys were kidnapped from the bus station near the settlement where I lived for many years and my son would take the bus from there every day," Elkin said. "I explained to him that under slightly different circumstances, it could have been my son that who was kidnapped, so how should I feel when Arouri is received as a legitimate guest in the rooms of the Russian Foreign Ministry?"
According to Elkin, Lavrov was surprised by the remarks and stressed that he wasn't aware of the case. He turned to some of his advisers present at the meeting and asked them how Arouri had received a visa to enter Russia. After being told that Arouri was part of an official Hamas delegation, Lavrov instructed his advisers to open an investigation and ensure that the case would not be repeated. Elkin added that Lavrov also denied reports that Hamas had opened an official office in Moscow.
In an interview with the radio station Echo of Moscow, Elkin said Russia's Foreign Ministry's reception of Arouri was "embarrassing and wrong" because he is a terrorist with "blood on his hands." Elkin added that Israel and Russia closely cooperate in the fight against terrorism and that Israeli intelligence has prevented acts of terror against Russian citizens. "That's why I think the approach has to be the same for all terrorists," Elkin said. "And it can't be that a terrorist like Saleh Arouri is formally accepted by the Foreign Ministry in Moscow."