Russia tells Abbas of growing Mideast concern

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told visiting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday that he was concerned about the fate of the Middle East peace process given the current turmoil in the region.

The Russian leader told Abbas he still supported an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, the message he took with him on a visit to the West Bank town of Jericho in January.

But he expressed worry that the current violence in Libya and other countries around the region could damage the fragile peace talks.

"Some time has passed since my visit to the Palestinian territories and unfortunately, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa has not improved," Medvedev told Abbas at his suburban Moscow residence.

"On the contrary, it has grown substantially more complex," he added. "I expect that despite the current difficulties, we will be able to overcome the current trend."

The meeting came just a day before the expected arrival in Moscow of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also under strong US pressure to resume open and productive dialogue with the Palestinians.

Russia has lost much of its influence in the Middle East since the Soviet era and has been watching the revolutions and social unrest sweeping the region with alarm.

Medvedev has voiced fears that the resulting power vacuum could lead to the rise of Islamists, potentially also destabilising the situation along Russia's troubled southern periphery.

Sounding a more optimistic note, Abbas told Medvedev he was also tracking the developments to see how they would affect the peace process, adding that "if they lead us to democracy, this should only be supported and welcomed."

Besides being unable to move the Israeli peace process forward, Abbas has also been waging an uphill battle to end his secular Fatah group's split with the Gaza-based Hamas movement and form an interim government.

Abbas has said he is ready to go to Gaza for talks, and he repeated that message in Moscow.

"I hope that the Hamas leadership accepts my initiative," Abbas said.

© 2011 AFP

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