Hamas leader talks to Russian foreign minister

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza's Hamas government said its prime minister held a rare phone conversation with Russia's foreign minister Wednesday.

Government spokesman Taher Nunu said Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh spoke with Sergey Lavrov for 35 minutes. He said the men discussed Israel's peace talks with the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank, the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza and "common relations."

Hamas, an Islamic militant group committed to Israel's destruction, is largely shunned by the international community. Although Russia has in the past hosted Hamas officials, the phone call was the first high-level conversation in months.

In a statement issued by Russia's Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for a "quick lifting" of the blockade on Gaza to "help relieve a difficult humanitarian situation of the Palestinian population." He also voiced his support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

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. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the forces of President Mahmoud Abbas. Repeated attempts at reconciliation by the two governments have failed.

__ Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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