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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 17:01 GMT
Hamas leaders invited to Russia
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal
Khaled Meshaal has ruled out recognition of Israel
The Palestinian militant group Hamas has been formally invited to visit Russia by President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian foreign ministry says the meeting - which is opposed by the US - will take place in early March.

Meanwhile, Hamas' exiled political leader, Khaled Meshaal, is in Turkey to meet officials, as the Palestinian group prepares to form a government.

Turkey - which has ties to both Israel and the Palestinians - has said it will urge Hamas to renounce violence.

Hamas won a landslide victory in last month's Palestinian election.

'Putin pragmatism'

Mr Putin announced earlier this month that Hamas would be invited to Moscow for talks.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says Thursday's formal invitation is an indication of how different Russia's view of the world is to that of the US.

While both Washington and the European Union see Hamas as a terrorist organisation, Moscow has made it clear that it does not.

The peace process must continue... Israelis and Palestinians must be able to live side by side
Abdullah Gul
Turkish foreign minister

The move is an example of Putin pragmatism, our correspondent says, with which Russia hopes to boost its influence in the Middle East by becoming a key mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

But the strategy is by no means guaranteed to work, our correspondent adds, as Israel is furious at Moscow's move.

Israel is refusing to hold talks with Hamas until the group renounces violence, recognises Israel's right to exist and accepts past agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

'Path to peace'

Turkey has defended its decision to welcome the Hamas delegation for talks with senior officials.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Turkey was fulfilling its international responsibilities in trying to steer the Palestinians towards the right path to peace.

"The peace process must continue... Israelis and Palestinians must be able to live side by side," he said in a televised address.

The Israeli foreign ministry issued a statement expressing "Israel's objections to such meetings with terrorists".

Hamas suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis, but the group is currently observing an informal ceasefire.

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