Leaders of the Hamas met religious and business leaders in Moscow on Saturday, the second day of a ground-breaking visit to a major world power after the group's victory in Palestinian elections.

Musa Abu Marzuq, Hamas's deputy political leader who is accompanying Khalid Mishaal, the group's politburo chief, to Russia, told Reuters in an interview on Saturday that recognising Israel would negate all Palestinian rights.

"It means a negation of the Palestinian people and their rights and their property, of Jerusalem and the holy sites, as well as negation of their right of return. Therefore the recognition of Israel is not on the agenda," Abu Marzuq said.

Breakthrough

On the other hand, Muhammad Nazzal, a senior Hamas official who is also part of the Hamas delegation, told AFP before the meetings on Saturday: "We consider this visit to be a very important breakthrough.

"The US administration is trying to isolate Hamas, they are trying to place Hamas under political siege. This visit to Russia is the first and we look forward to establishing good relations between Hamas and Russia in the future," Nazzal said.

Hamas is under pressure to make
changes in its hardline charter

Mishaal was to hold a series of meetings on Saturday,
starting with talks with Mufti Shaikh Ravil Gainutdin, the head of the Russian Council of Muftis.

Gainutdin said Russian Muslims wanted to see progress in the Middle East peace process. "We will stress the need for the process to move forward through political negotiation and for armed confrontation to be stopped," he was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying during his meeting with Mishaal.

Those talks were to be followed by discussions with the chairman of the foreign relations committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, as well as a meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexei II, Hamas and Russian officials said.

Business leaders

Mishaal was also to meet Arab and other Muslim business leaders in Moscow in the evening, Nazzal said.

Saturday's programme for the Hamas leadership comes after Mishaal and his team held a two-hour meeting with Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, in which he stated in clear terms that the world expected Hamas to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

Hamas must respect the views of the Middle East Quartet of mediators, Lavrov said.