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      Russia and Hamas to Discuss Arms, Israel Considers Sanctions

      Russia’s President Vladimir Putin formally invited Hamas leaders this week to visit Moscow for talks in early March. Stunned Israeli officials are considering sanctions against the Hamas led PA.
      By Hana Levi Julian
      First Publish: 2/17/2006, 10:58 AM / Last Update: 2/17/2006, 9:54 AM

      The meeting may end with a new deal to supply the terrorist organization with arms, including two M-17 helicopters and 50 armored personnel carriers, according to a report by the Interfax news agency.

      Russian army chief of general staff General Yuri Baluvevsky said the two helicopters would be unarmed, however. He justified the sale of armored equipment as necessary for “stabilizing the situation”.

      The only catch: Israel will have to approve the sale.

      In a meeting on Thursday with high-ranking European Union official Javier Solana, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni expressed Israel’s annoyance with the Russian move.

      Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, was not as concerned. “The meeting with the Russians could be helpful if they relay the messages of the Quartet,” he said. The comment was a reference to the group’s pressure on Hamas to reverse its current refusal to lay down its weapons, renounce terrorism, or acknowledge Israel.

      Israel meanwhile, geared up for Hamas’ official entry into the Palestinian Legislative Council Saturday by drawing up a list of sanctions to go into effect when the new majority party is sworn in.

      Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with senior government officials to consider the recommendations approved on Thursday by the Defense and Foreign Ministry, which would take effect on Sunday.

      Proposed sanctions include curbs on fund transfers, blocking movement from Gaza to Judea and Samaria, and denial of Israeli entry permits to Arab workers living within the Palestinian Authority controlled areas.

      In addition, Israel would freeze projects such as building a seaport and airport in Gaza. Preparations to turn Gaza’s Erez and Karni crossings into international border crossings will also be halted. The proposed move will end the practice of collecting taxes on behalf of the PA.

      Furthermore, PA merchants would be compelled to pay customs and other taxes in order to move merchandise in and out of Gaza, which is currently free of charge.
      Provision of utilities such as water and electricity, transfer of medical supplies, and other humanitarian cooperation would continue.

      The sanctions are intended to force Hamas to comply with international pressure to halt terrorism, and formally recognize the existence of the Jewish State.