The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported on Thursdaythat the Medvedev-Meshaal meeting "came as a surprise in Israel".

Russia is a member of the so-called Middle East Quartet, but - unlike its three partners - it has long urged immediate engagement with Hamas. The other Quartet members insist that Hamas must first renounce terrorism and recognise the state of Israel.

Russia is one of a handful of European countries to maintain ties with the group. The United States, European Union and Israeli governments all consider Hamas a terrorist organisation.

Shalit released urged

Medvedev also urged Meshaal to release Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006.

"The Russian president urged solving the problem of releasing... Gilad Shalit as soon as possible," Natalya Timakova, Medvedev's spokeswoman, said.

The Hamas leader reportedly blamed Israel for obstructing negotiationsfor Shalit's release. The two sides have been negotiating for years through a German mediating team.

Medvedev met Meshaal following a meeting with Syrian presidentBashar al-Assad.