Foreign Minister Lavrov calls for a unified Palestinian state

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has called for a unified Palestinian state to be established as soon as possible, and has condemned attempts to undermine Palestinian statehood.

His comments came during a joint news conference with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on the final day of his visit to the Middle East.

In a particularly challenging 24-hour diplomatic mission, Mr Lavrov had to deliver a message that would neither alienate Israelis nor Palestinians.

His message from Moscow was simple: Russia wants the two rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, to put aside their differences and return to the negotiating table
 
Those differences left more than a hundred people dead in Gaza a fortnight ago.

In a reversal of roles, it is now Hamas who says it is willing to talk with Fatah, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is refusing.

The international community has been trying to bolster Mr Abbas to get peace talks with Israel re-started.
 
On Wednesday, Mr Lavrov met with Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem

He said he welcomed the recent talks in Sharm el-Sheikh between Olmert and Abbas.

“We welcome the meeting which Prime Minister Olmert and Chairman Abbas had two days ago with the participation of Jordanians and Egyptians. And we hope that the momentum which is being developed will continue and also appreciated that during that summit, it was clearly stated that eventual peace is only possible with all Palestinians, with united Palestinians and we want to support Mahmoud Abbas to move in this direction,” Russian Foreign Minister underscored.

After his meeting with Sergey Lavrov, the Israeli Premier reiterated his government’s position, emphasizing that he would work with Abbas’ new government, but not with Hamas.

“Israeli position is clear and very explicit. We will cooperate with the government of (Palestinian Prime Minister) Salam Fayyad and under the leadership of Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas). There is no basis and no chance for any cooperation with this terrorist organisation, the Hamas, which has violated all the basic principles of human decency and all the agreements within the Palestinian community as well as the agreements of the international community,” said Mr Olmert
 
Mr Lavrov also held talks with President Abbas at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah

The talks lasted for more than an hour and a half, during which Lavrov promised Russia would take part in international efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians, especially in Gaza.
 
The Russian Foreign Minister’s visit coincided with the naming of the new Middle East envoy – the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  Mr Blair was appointed by the 'quartet' of peace mediators, made up of Russia, the United States, Europe and the United Nations.

 Mr Lavrov said the main task of the special envoy would be do everything possible to improve Palestinian living standards.

“Prime Minister Blair talked to President Putin, and our position is that the quartet has concluded the elaboration of the mandate for the new representative and this mandate is based on the need to do everything to respond to the actual needs of the Palestinians and to work very closely under the guidance of the quartet,” said the Foreign Minister.
 
While it’s not clear just how much the two sides will adhere to the Russian position of engaging Hamas, Lavrov’s visit did make one thing clear – Russia has every intention of remaining intimately involved in resolving the Middle East conflict.