"Russia confirmed its position aimed at achieving intra-Palestinian unity in accordance with criteria set by the Quartet of Middle East mediators, and the resumption of a peace dialogue between the Palestinians and Israel based on international law," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement after Meshaal met Alexander Saltanov, a deputy minister.

Russia is the only member of the Middle East Quartet, also made up of the UN, the US and the European Union, which has maintained ties with Hamas since the group took over the Palestinian government last year.

Quartet divided

Last week, the Quartet failed to reach an agreement on the group's position on the unity government. Russia wants the Quartet to back the coalition deal while Washington has adopted a wait-and-see approach.

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Palestinians are hoping that the formation of the unity government will lead to the lifting of US and European-led economic sanctions which, along with an Israeli refusal to release revenues it collects on the Palestinians behalf, severely damaged the Palestinian economy.

"We want Russia to prevent the external pressure that is creating a schism within Palestine," Meshaal was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying after the talks.

Meshaal is due to meet Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, on Tuesday.

Israel's opposition to the visit by Meshaal was to be reiterated by Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli minister for strategic affairs, who was also in  Moscow for talks with Russian officials.
 
Ehud Olmert, the prime minister of Israel, spoke to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, after Meshaal's visit was announced.
  
"We don't think anyone should associate with Hamas and certainly not with Khaled Meshaal," Miri Eisin, Israeli government spokesman, said after the telephone call.