Russia's Medvedev in Jericho for peace talks
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday arrived in the West Bank for talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on his first visit to the occupied territories.
The Russian leader flew in to Amman then drove across the Allenby Bridge border crossing before arriving in the oasis town of Jericho for talks with Abbas focused on the crisis in peace talks with Israel.
There was a festive atmosphere as the president drove into town, with the streets lined with Russian and Palestinian flags, and posters of the two leaders fluttering in the breeze.
Crowds of expectant locals were milling around the town centre, among them hundreds of school children, as the convoy swept in, an AFP correspondent said.
The trip is a rare Middle East visit for Medvedev, who is being accompanied by hundreds of Russian businessmen, and was on Wednesday to hold similar talks with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman.
He had also been due to visit Israel but postponed the trip after a strike by employees with the Israeli foreign ministry.
Medvedev was also expected to open a Russian-funded museum housing Palestinian antiquities during his brief visit to the town.
But the main focus of the trip was for the Russian leader to talk with Abbas about the peace process which stalled several months ago over the issue of continued settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
"The upcoming talks with the Palestinian leadership follow the logic of Russia's fundamental commitment to reinvigorate international efforts to stabilise the situation and achieve peace in the Middle East," the Kremlin said in a statement ahead of the visit.
Russia, which is one of the four members of the Middle East peace Quartet along with the United States, European Union and United Nations, has traditionally competed with Washington for influence as a power broker in the region.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat described the visit as of "historic importance in light of the support given to the Palestinian position on the negotiations that stalled over Israel's refusal to halt settlements."
He said Moscow had already indicated its support for Palestinian attempts to secure a UN resolution condemning Jewish settlements building, but sources in Ramallah said Abbas would seek to confirm that support.
Abbas was also expected to ask Moscow to renew its recognition of a Palestinian state, which was declared in 1990.
The last time a Russian leader visited the West Bank was in 2005, when former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin paid a visit to the region.
Medvedev's top foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said Russia was not so ambitious as to believe it could single-handedly re-start the peace talks.
"That would be a very high hurdle," he said. "We do not consider ourselves a messiah.
"We are ready to demonstrate a responsible approach and share that responsibility with everyone."
Medvedev's trip comes ahead of a Quartet meeting on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich next month, which is hoping to give fresh impetus to the negotiations.
Direct talks began in September but ground to a halt weeks later when an Israeli ban on settlement construction in the West Bank expired and Israel's largely right-wing government refused to renew it.
The Palestinians have said they will not hold talks while Israel builds on land they want for a future state, and last month but Washington has given up trying to convince Israel to implement a new freeze.
© 2011 AFP