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UPDATED: 10:02, February 28, 2007
Russian FM sees "obvious" Hamas progress, urges lifting of blockade
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Russia's foreign minister said on Tuesday the "obvious" progress achieved during recent talks between rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas warranted the lifting of the economic embargo on the Palestinians.

"Progress is obvious... We are convinced that the progress is enough to mitigate the economic restrictions imposed on the Palestinians," the minister, Sergei Lavrov, told a news conference in Moscow.

Lavrov, who earlier held talks with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal, said the two sides "identified the aspects most important to paving the way for a settlement of the Middle East conflict," he said.

"The Mecca accord proved that consolidation of all Palestinians was possible. The Mecca accord is a move towards implementing the demands of the Quartet of international mediators," he said. He pledged to continue work on Hamas.

Fatah and Hamas agreed in the Saudi holy city of Mecca earlier this month to form a national unity government to replace the Hamas-led government in a bid to end the siege on the Palestinians.

Russia, together with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, forms the Quartet of mediators for peace in the Middle East.

Speaking at a separate news conference, Lavrov said Hamas has pledged to stop missile attacks on Israel.

"Hamas must use all its authority on the Palestinian territories to stop firing Kassam rockets at Israel. We have been assured that such steps will be taken," he was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

At a meeting last week in Berlin, the Quartet reiterated its demands that the new Palestinian government recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing peace deals, but the United States and Russia were divided over lifting the economic embargo. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said Washington had not made any decision on whether to recognize the planned Palestinian unity government and would take a "wait-and-see" approach.

Lavrov said earlier in the day that Russia will push for the lifting of the aid blockade on the Palestinian territories.

"We are taking steps to persuade the whole of the international community to support this process and make it irreversible, which would help lift the blockade on the Palestinian territories," he said.

Source: Xinhua

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