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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat Holds Talks in Moscow

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, launching a visit to Moscow, expressed hope Monday for a quick end to the fighting in breakaway Chechnya between Russian forces and Islamic militants.

Arafat arrived Monday for two days of talks with Russian officials on the Mideast peace process. He and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also discussed cooperation between the Palestinians and Russia in communications, transport and education, according to Interfax.

Putin told a press conference after the talks that the two had not discussed Russia's military campaign in Chechnya. Arafat, however, told the same news conference: "Chechnya is Russia's internal affair, but I would like to hope that these events would stop soon.''

Many Western countries have criticized the campaign, citing high civilian casualties and the plight of the more than 233,000 refugees.

Arafat is also to hold talks with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Alexy II before his departure Tuesday.

A meeting with President Boris Yeltsin set for Tuesday was cancelled after the president fell ill last week.

Russia is officially a co-sponsor of the Mideast peace process, which was launched in 1991, although the United States has played a far greater role. Russia has been developing better ties with Israel in recent years, and has tried not to offend either the Israeli or the Palestinian side.

Hairi Abdel al-Oridi, the Palestinian ambassador to Russia, said Arafat and Russian officials would also discuss preparations for a possible Yeltsin trip to the town of Bethlehem on the West Bank on Jan. 7 as part of Russian Orthodox Christmas celebrations.

Arafat last visited Moscow and met with Yeltsin in April.