Russia on Thursday rebuffed Israel's criticism of President Dmitry Medvedev's meeting with the leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas this week.
Calling Hamas "a terror organization in every way", Israel's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it was "deeply disappointed" that Medvedev met the group's exiled leader Khaled Mashaal during a visit to Syria this week.
Russia, the United States, European Union and the United Nations, make up a quartet of Middle East mediators. The US, EU and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist group. Russia insists that Hamas should not be isolated.
"Hamas...is a movement supported by the trust and sympathy of a significant part of Palestinians," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement. "We have regular contacts with this movement."
"It is known that all other participants of the Middle East quartet are also in some sort of contact with Hamas leadership, although for some unknown reason they are shy to publicly admit it," Nesterenko said.
During the meeting with Mashaal, Medvedev called for the quick release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip for nearly four years. Hamas later dismissed the Russian pressure and said Shalit would not be set free without an "honorable" prisoner exchange deal with Israel.
Also Thursday, Hamas hailed Russia and Turkey for suggesting the movement be included in the Middle East peace process.
"The invitation by Russia and Turkey to include the movement in the political process reflects the true political weight of the movement," senior Hamas leader Salah al-Bardawil said.
"Recognition of the legitimacy of Hamas will increase to include other countries besides Russia," he said.