Russia wants ‘speedy’ end to Gaza blockade

Gaza’s prime minister holds rare phone conversation with Moscow to discuss ‘common relations’

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Moscow has called for a “speedy” end to the Gaza Strip blockade after Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a rare phone conversation with Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

“[Lavrov] called for the speedy removal of the blockade of the Gaza Strip to improve the humanitarian plight of Palestinian civilians,” the government’s Voice of Russia website quoted the Moscow’s foreign ministry as saying in a statement on Wednesday.

The statement added: “Lavrov reiterated Russia’s principled position based on U.N. decisions in support of legitimate hopes of Palestinians for the creation of an independent and territorial integral state co-existing in peace and harmony with its neighbors.”

Gaza’s Hamas government spokesman Taher Nunu said Haniyeh and Lavrov discussed Israel’s peace talks with the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank, the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza and “common relations.”

While Russia has in the past hosted Hamas officials, who are largely shunned by the international community, the 35-minute phone call was the first high-level conversation in months.

The Palestinian movement Hamas, which has governed Gaza since 2007, doesn’t recognize Israel as a state.

Since Hamas seized control of Gaza, Israel has imposed a land, air and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip, leaving Palestinians no other choice but to dig underground tunnels to smuggle necessary goods from across the border.

According to the Russian statement, Haniyeh told Lavrov about the social and economic situation in Gaza and discussed overcoming differences between Hamas and its rival government in the West Bank.

Some observers considered Russia’s statement as an indication of Moscow’s return as a heavyweight player in the region.

“The Syrian conflict has allowed Russia to reinstate itself not only as a regional player but as an international power and as a counterweight to the United States,” the Beirut-based Sakr Abu Fakhr, who is on the editorial committee of Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya (MDF), the Institute for Palestine Studies Arabic quarterly, told Al Arabiya News.

The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a natural ally for the Islamist Hamas, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad staying in power are all factors in compelling the Palestinian movement to rearrange its alliances, other experts said.

“No doubt the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was not only a major setback but a disaster for Hamas. It shattered all their hopes,” said Adnan Abu Amer, a professor of political science at Gaza’s Al Ummah University Open Education.

“This has pushed Hamas to find an alliance substitute to break this international isolation,” he added.

Both Iran and Russia back Syrian President Assad’s regime. On Monday, a senior Hamas member said that the Islamist movement has resumed relations with Iran after a temporary disagreement over the Syrian conflict.

Hamas’s Mahmud al-Azhar said “relations between Hamas and Iran have resumed,” the Agence France-Presse quoted him as telling reported.

According to Abu Amer, Iran-Hamas relations “witnessed some hindrances” but were never severed.

“Iran is still upholding Hamas despite their differences on Syria,” he said.

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