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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat to Meet Putin as Mideast Unravels

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With the cycle of violence in the Middle East continuing, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is to arrive in Moscow on Friday for talks with President Vladimir Putin.

Russia is a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process with the United States, but the Kremlin has played a much smaller role than Washington and some analysts were skeptical of whether Arafat's trip could help resolve the conflict.

An official with the Palestinian delegation said on condition of anonymity that Arafat had been invited by Putin, but the Kremlin issued an official statement saying that the Palestinians had requested the meeting.

"The Russian leadership continues an active effort to unblock the crisis situation in the Middle East," the statement said. "Intensive contacts are underway with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership."

Arafat's trip follows two months of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, in which more than 250 people — the majority of whom are Palestinian — have been killed.

A car bomb rocked northern Israel on Wednesday evening, killing two. Palestinians, in turn, vowed to take revenge on Israel on Thursday as they buried five compatriots, four of them killed by Israeli troops.

"More killings means more resistance. When our blood is shed we would love to see Israeli blood shed on TV screens," said one mourner at the funerals in the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of Palestinians marched to honor the men, four of whom were members of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

In a cycle of violence, Palestinian deaths are followed by funerals at which passions have often flared, prompting more protests, more clashes and more bloodshed.

"Revenge, revenge. The blood of martyrs will not be wasted," hundreds of mourners shouted during the funeral of 27-year-old Sami Abu Laban, who was among those shot on Wednesday at an Israeli army post in the Gaza Strip and who was buried in Gaza City.

Palestinians on Thursday fired a mortar shell into an Israeli-Palestinian liaison office in the Gaza Strip, killing an Israeli officer. In response, Israel ordered Palestinians to leave all such offices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which had been one of the last points of contact between the two sides.

Palestinian envoy to Moscow Khairi al-Oridi said Thursday that the Palestinians welcome Russia's striving to "save the Middle East peace process."

Al-Oridi said that U.S. mediation efforts have failed because Israel "blocks the peace process and the U.S. takes a pro-Israeli position," Itar-Tass reported.

This is why "the role of Russia, which is free in its maneuvers, has increased," Al-Oridi said, adding that the Palestinians welcome Russia's desire to "play an active role in the Middle East."

But analysts raised doubts about Russia's influence and Arafat's motives.

"It's a diversion maneuver by Arafat," said Yevgeny Volk, the head of the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office. "By making this trip, he pretends that he stands for a dialogue and is trying to find a political solution."

"Russia has long lost its leverage with the Palestinians," he said. "It can do nothing beyond endless and vain persuasion attempts."

(AP, Reuters)