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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat Wins Russia's Backing on Mideast Peace

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Tuesday urged the Israeli government to end construction of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, calling a moratorium on building a key condition for ending hostilities in the Middle East.

He and visiting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also voiced support for the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative to end violence between Palestinians and Israelis and for following the recommendations set out in the Mitchell report.

"In our opinion, they form an acceptable foundation for continuing efforts to restore stability and peace in the Middle East," Ivanov told reporters at a news conference following talks with Arafat.

Both the joint Egyptian-Jordanian proposal for a cease-fire and the report by an international commission led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell include calls for a freeze on building Jewish settlements.

"I would like to especially underline the importance of stopping the Israeli settlement activities, which would help solve other issues on the agenda," Ivanov said.

Arafat said the Palestinians supported the U.S. initiative for political contacts between Israeli and Palestinian representatives, but only if the U.S. representative at the talks was more than an observer.

"We are not against holding such a meeting but we believe that the American ambassador's presence should be effective. He should be an effective participant in this process and not just an observer," Arafat said.

Arafat later met with President Vladimir Putin, who emphasized the need to end violence.

"Every day brings new casualties on both the Palestinian and Israeli side," Putin said. "Together with you, we are suffering the tragedy of the Palestinian people and all the peoples of the region."

Before meeting Arafat, Putin had a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss ways to end the violence and to explore prospects for the peace process to move forward, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Putin has also sent letters to Jordan's King Abdullah II and Syrian President Bashar Assad, outlining Russia's role in Mideast peacemaking. Putin's letters were delivered by former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a seasoned Mideast peace negotiator who is currently touring the region.

A special Russian envoy for the Middle East, Andrei Vdovin, is scheduled to visit the region next week.

Russia co-sponsors the Mideast peace process along with the United States, but it has played a comparatively minor role.

Moscow's attempts to carve itself a wider niche in Mideast peace efforts were defeated last October, when it was left out of a Middle East summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt. Since then, various Arab states have voiced a greater interest in Russia's mediation, describing it as a necessary counterbalance to the U.S. peace efforts.

Arafat on Tuesday met with Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, pointing out that Israeli bombs were falling primarily on Bethlehem and other "Orthodox cities."

"It's sad that in the first year of the new 21st century and the new millennium, there is bloodshed and destruction in the holy land," Alexy said.