South Africa to meet with Hamas representatives

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Thursday, March 2, 2006

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Palestinian extremist group Hamas has been invited to meet with representatives of the South African government. Hamas won the Palestinian legislative counsel elections of January 2006 by a landslide and is now faced with forming a government and strained ties to European Union and the United States, which classify it as a terrorist organization responsible for several suicide attacks.

The South African deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad confirmed on Thursday that the country is preparing a meeting with the controversial group. According to Pahad South Africa wishes to share its experiences on the transformation from the Apartheid-era to democracy with the Palestinians and Israel. South Africa also sees it important to keep in contact with Hamas in the search for peace in the Middle East. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spookesman said that there is no date for talks with South Africa yet. Israel criticized the South African invitation.

Russia has invited leaders of the Hamas for talks, which will begin on Friday. The Russian invitation was the first one after the elections of January 2006. However, Russia has put Hamas under pressure to recognize Israel and renounce violence. There have been talks between Hamas leaders and the Turkish foreign minister, Abdullah Gul. Another invitation for talks with Hamas came from Venezuela.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman voiced his ministry's concerns that "giving legitimacy to an unreformed Hamas" could turn the movement "from a terrorist organization to a political party".

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