TEL AVIV – Russia’s top diplomat met with the head of Gaza-based terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), prompting outrage from Israel, who filed an official protest to Moscow.
According to the Russian foreign ministry’s website, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his deputy, Mikhail Bogdanov, met with Palestinian Islamic Jihad secretary-general Ziyad al-Nakhalah Wednesday night in Moscow to discuss “the task of speedy restoration of Palestinian national unity on the political platform of the Palestinian Liberation Organization as a necessary condition for establishing sustainable direct negotiations with Israel.”
Gaza, which is run by the Hamas-terror group, has long been at odds with the Palestinian Authority-run West Bank and multiple attempts to build a unity government have failed.
According to Iran’s Press TV, the two held “positive” and “profound” talks that also focused on the Trump administration’s plan for Israel-Palestinian peace.
PIJ representatives voiced their firm opposition to the US scheme, saying it strives to “eliminate the Palestinian problem, as well as to give up Jerusalem [al-Quds], the West Bank and the right of return of refugees,” the report said, citing Palestine Today website.
“The Palestinian people will never give up their historical rights and national principles,” the PIJ representatives were quoted as saying.
Israel’s interim ambassador to Russia, Eli Belocerkovsky, denounced the meeting in a letter to Bogdanov.
PIJ, Belocerkovsky noted, is a “terrorist organization supported by Iran that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and systematically undermines arrangements in the Gaza Strip by attacking Israeli civilians.”
The Russian foreign ministry said its representatives had “reaffirmed its firm commitment to the two-state principle” in the meeting.
Islamic Jihad has long rejected the idea of two states, a Jewish and a Palestinian one, living side by side, and routinely calls for the annihilation of Israel.
The Russia’s embassy in Israel tweeted photos of the meeting, including one of Lavrov and Nakhala shaking hands, but deleted the tweet.
According to The Jerusalem Post, the embassy’s spokesman defended the deletion saying, “This topic concerns the Russian Representative Office in Ramallah, and they have their own Twitter account.”
Nakhala’s ties with Iran and its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah are strong, and the PIJ chief splits his time between Lebanon and neighboring Syria. He is said to have close ties with Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Iranian Quds Force killed by the US earlier this year.
Much of the PIJ’s terror activities, including rocket barrages into Israel, are green-lighted by Tehran.
He is fluent in Hebrew, the result of spending time in an Israeli jail following an 1971 arrest for his role in Arab Liberation Forces terror attacks. His life sentence was cut short in a 1985 prisoner exchange deal.
Three years later, Israel arrested him again and he was deported to Lebanon. In 2018, he was appointed secretary-general of the PIJ, the second-largest terror group in Gaza after Hamas.