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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lavrov Promises Support for Abbas

APLavrov welcoming Abbas on Monday for a three-day visit. Abbas was set to meet with Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to meet with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in a visit that could boost the Fatah leader's standing in the bloody feud with rival Palestinian organization Hamas.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assured Abbas of Moscow's backing Monday when he told him that Russia firmly supported him "as leader of the entire Palestinian people."

Analysts said it was significant that Abbas chose Moscow as the destination for his first trip since he fired his Hamas-led government after the faction violently took control of the Gaza Strip on June 14.

The Kremlin stressed, however, that it would not abandon its line of communication with the radical Islamic Hamas.

"Russia is going to maintain its contacts with all sides," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a telephone interview Monday.

Russia is the only member of the Quartet trying to broker a Middle East peace agreement that is in contact with Hamas, a militant group that does not recognize Israel. The Quartet comprises Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

But Lavrov's statement was seen as Moscow's strongest show of support yet for the moderate Palestinian leader.

"We firmly support you as the lawful leader of the entire Palestinian people, and we support your efforts aimed at restoring law, achieving unity among the Palestinian people and continuing the process of seeking a resolution to the situation in the Palestinian territories," Lavrov told Abbas in televised comments.

"I am convinced that your meeting tomorrow with President Vladimir Putin will help us map out specific ways of cooperation in bilateral affairs and in the Middle East peace process," Lavrov added.

Abbas, who arrived in Moscow on Sunday for a three-day visit, will meet with Putin in the Kremlin for about an hour at noon, Peskov said. He said the main topic of discussion would be "the normalization of the situation in the Middle East."

Before his meeting with Lavrov, Abbas said he would also discuss conditions for holding an international conference on the Middle East. He said he would inform the Russians about talks with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the new envoy for the Quartet.

Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Foundation suggested that the Palestinian leader might expect Russia to give him an easier time than the other Quartet members. Unlike the EU or the United States, Moscow would not make "unexpected demands" from the Palestinians, he said.

Malashenko said that it was possible that Putin would follow Lavrov's lead and stick to making friendly remarks about Abbas and the more moderate Fatah.

But as another sign of Russia's two-pronged approach, Lavrov last week had a telephone conversation with Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal.

Malashenko said Lavrov was trying to operate differently with the moderates in Hamas around Meshaal than with more radical members represented by former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

The United States and the EU have sought to bolster Abbas and sideline Hamas.

Other experts stressed that Russia should not follow suit.

"Hamas should not be isolated, because otherwise the radical Islamists will get even stronger," said Vitaly Naumkin, head of the Center for Arab Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies. He added that the mere visit probably bolstered Abbas' position as Palestinian leader.

He also said the Middle East was a region where Russia's clout as a global political player was still very strong.

Hamas, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections last year, is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the EU and Israel. Washington has led efforts to isolate the Hamas-dominated government, demanding that it renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and abide by existing agreements with the Jewish state.