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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Promises Aid for Abbas

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- President Vladimir Putin has pledged to provide equipment and training for Palestinian security forces to help them rein in militant groups.

Putin, ending two days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Friday, said his government would begin by supplying helicopters and communications equipment. Russia then plans to train Palestinian security officers in Moscow before deciding on further assistance, he said.

Putin spoke after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has vowed to curb militant violence against Israel and bring order to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"If we expect President Abbas to fight terrorism, he cannot do that with only stones in his hand," Putin said during a news conference with Abbas.

The Russians plan to provide two transport helicopters for Abbas' use, replacing aircraft used by the late Yasser Arafat until they were destroyed by Israeli forces during the intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

Putin appeared to have shelved plans to supply 50 armored personnel carriers, an idea that drew Israeli opposition on grounds that the vehicles might be used by militants. He did not discuss the vehicles when asked about them during the news conference.

Palestinian authorities were permitted to have similar Russian-made vehicles under a 1993 interim peace accord, but most were destroyed during the fighting with Israel that began in 2000, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said the issue of Russian aid to the Palestinians had come up during talks between Putin and Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a day earlier.

"They gave us a commitment that they will coordinate with us their support for the PA," Regev said.

Putin's stopover in the West Bank began with the laying of a wreath at Arafat's glass-encased tomb.

Putin arrived Wednesday night in Jerusalem, the first visit to Israel by a Kremlin leader since the nation was established in 1948. After the talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, which he described as fruitful, Putin vowed that his government would become more involved in Middle East peacemaking. Russia is one of the four entities -- including the United States, United Nations and European Union -- that sponsored the diplomatic initiative known as the road map. Those efforts have been dominated by the United States, and Russia so far has taken a back seat. Representatives of the four sponsors are to meet in Moscow on May 8.

Putin said Friday that he remained committed to hosting an international conference on the peace process this fall but that he envisioned a gathering of experts, rather than of political leaders. Israel and the United States reacted coolly to Putin's proposal, but Abbas on Friday expressed strong support for the conference.

 Syria on Sunday welcomed Putin's proposal and said the cool Israeli and U.S. reception of the offer exposed their rejection of peace, The Associated Press reported.