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23 Mar, 2008 03:45

Moscow to host new Middle East peace conference?

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has ended his Middle East tour, during which he sought to bolster support for Moscow's proposal to host a Middle East peace conference later this year. Lavrov's last stop was Ramallah, where he met Palestinian President Mahm

After meeting with Abbas in his  Ramallah headquarters on the West Bank, the Russian Foreign Minister called for an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of Gaza.

“The blockade of Gaza has become unacceptable and it should be ended as soon as possible, so that Gaza can live normally in the social, economic and other spheres,” Sergey Lavrov stressed.
Lavrov also demanded that Israel halt settlement activity – a demand the Palestinian leadership is also refusing to budge on. It accuses Israel of building illegally on Palestinian soil.

“In this context we are, of course, concerned over Israel's settlement activity. We call for its immediate halt. Russia will do everything possible both to provide humanitarian and economic aid to Palestinians and to reinforce the efforts of the world community to support the Annapolis process,” said Lavrov.
As a follow-up to the Annapolis summit held in Maryland last November, the Russian government is proposing a peace summit in Moscow later this year. President Abbas expressed his support for the initiative, although Israel has been lukewarm on the issue.

Abbas and Lavrov also discussed Palestinian reconciliation talks underway in Yemen.

Rival factions Fatah and Hamas have been embroiled in a bitter civil war since Hamas took over Gaza last year. Abbas said he was confident progress would be made in the talks, but was criticised by Hamas for being inconsistent in his position.