Moscow gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas its strongest vote of confidence since last month's takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas when the Russian foreign minister told Abbas yesterday that he was the legitimate leader of the Palestinians.
Abbas held talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov one day before he was expected to lobby President Vladimir Putin for support for his Fatah movement - at the expense of his Hamas rivals.
The visit is Abbas' first to Russia since the radical Islamic group seized control of Gaza in June. The takeover prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity, with the international community lining up behind Abbas and the West Bank-based government of moderates he has installed.
Russia is a member of the Quartet of Mideast negotiators, which also comprises the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.
Last year, Moscow raised the ire of Israel and Western nations when it hosted Hamas' top leadership for talks. Many observers have said the Hamas talks in Russia are part of an effort by Moscow to regain the clout and influence it enjoyed in the Middle East during the Soviet era.
In brief comments before reporters, Lavrov signaled Moscow's firm support for Abbas but there was no mention of Hamas - suggesting that Russia was still seeking to keep open its contacts with the Hamas leadership.
"We firmly support you as the lawful leader of the entire Palestinian people," Lavrov told Abbas, "and we support your efforts aimed at restoring law, achieving unity among the Palestinian people and continuing the process to seek a resolution to the situation in the Palestinian territories."
"I am convinced that your meeting tomorrow with President Vladimir Putin will help us map out specific ways of cooperation in bilateral affairs and in the Middle East peace process," Lavrov told him.
Abbas, meanwhile, told the Russian foreign minister: "I am confident in your support of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian national administration and I'm sure you will continue rendering support in all spheres."
"Russia is a friendly state, having a great influence in the region and in the Quartet of international intermediaries," Abbas said, speaking through a translator. "Therefore, the support of Moscow is of great importance to us."
In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Lavrov's statement did not appear to contradict Hamas policies. "We are not challenging the president's legitimacy and we still call him president," he said.
Source: China Daily/agencies