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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sharon's Visit Sets Putin in Motion

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon behind closed doors Wednesday for unscheduled talks, while President Vladimir Putin consulted by phone with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a day of busy talks on the Mideast crisis.

Putin ordered the Foreign Ministry's envoy to the Middle East, Andrei Vdovin, "to leave urgently for the region to continue contacts," Russian news agencies quoted Ivanov as saying.

Ivanov's meeting with Sharon was the second since the Israeli leader's arrival in Moscow late Monday night.

Later Wednesday, Sharon met with several hundred people at a Jewish community center in Moscow. He did not divulge details of his talks with Ivanov, saying only, "We are united in our concern over the spread of Islamic terrorism."

Regarding negotiations, he said, "We are ready for painful compromises," but added: "We will never agree to any concessions to the Palestinians until terror and incitement of terror stops."

No breakthroughs have been announced in Sharon's meetings with Russian officials. Putin told him Tuesday that Moscow's traditionally strong relations with the Arab world, together with its burgeoning ties with Israel, put it in a good position to help hammer out a Mideast peace settlement.

On Wednesday, Putin spoke by telephone with Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Kremlin press service said.

With Arafat, Putin "discussed possible steps for unblocking the Palestinian-Israeli crisis," the terse Kremlin statement said.

Arafat praised Russian efforts toward settling the conflict and urged continued cooperation, it said, without elaborating.

With Mubarak, the main topic of the conversation was "international cooperation in defusing the Israeli-Palestinian crisis," the Kremlin said.

Moscow has long played second fiddle to the United States in Mideast peacemaking, though Russia has dispatched envoys to the region and frequently received regional leaders seeking support. Palestinian representative Mahmoud Abbas, seen as Arafat's deputy, is scheduled to arrive in Moscow on Friday.

Ivanov admitted after talks with Sharon that so far international mediation on the Middle East had produced little result, but added, "this doesn't mean we should give up our efforts. On the contrary, we must further intensify our actions."

Visiting Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero spoke with Ivanov about the Middle East situation and called for a wide array of countries to get involved in the search for a settlement.

At the packed and tightly guarded community center, Sharon praised Putin for allowing for improvements in Jewish life in Russia, but told the crowd, "You should not get used to it, because we want all of you to come over to live in Israel."

Russian media reported that Sharon called off his meetings Wednesday with State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, and Patriarch Alexy II, and some said the Israeli leader was not feeling well.

However, Sharon aide Raanan Gissin said that meetings had been taken off the agenda before Sharon left Israel, and said the changes were due to "logistical and security reasons."

"Sharon feels fine," Gissin said.

"Since he got up, he's had a full schedule. He hasn't had time to breathe this morning, let alone be sick."

Also Wednesday, a Russian Orthodox official said the church is suspending organized pilgrimages to Jerusalem because of the violence in the region. Nikolai Balashov, a senior official with the Moscow Patriarchate, made the announcement on Ekho Moskvy radio.