There have been strong words from the United States after Vladimir Putin said he would invite Hamas leaders to Moscow for talks. A State Department spokesman underlined that Russia belongs to a group of international mediators that has urged Hamas to drop its violent past and recognize Israel. “If there are meetings that take place, we would expect that the message would be strong and clear to Hamas,” said Sean McCormack.It was on a visit to Spain that the Russian president revealed he would invite Hamas leaders for talks, following the militant group’s victory in Palestinian elections last month. Putin reiterated that Russia, unlike the US and the EU, does not consider Hamas to be a terrorist organisation. He said it had to be recognised that it came to power as a result of legitimate elections and added: “We must respect the choice of the Palestinian people.” A senior Hamas official said in Gaza that leaders of the group, whose charter calls for Israel’s destruction, “would be delighted” to visit Russia if President Putin tendered a formal invitation. Hamas is gearing up to form a Palestinian government following its election triumph over the long-dominant Fatah group. Responsible for dozens of suicide bombings against Israel, Hamas has largely adhered to a truce Palestinian militant factions declared last March. It has suggested it could be extended further if Israel gives up land it captured in the 1967 Middle East War.