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Russian citizens flee Gaza

More than 70 Russian and a number of Belarussian citizens have arrived in the Jordanian capital, Amman, after being evacuated from Gaza. A Russian government plane is preparing to take them to Moscow. Russian diplomats haven’t ruled out the possibility of

Earlier, Russia has given the Israeli authorities a list of more than a hundred people it wants evacuated from the region.

Pyotr Stegny, Russian Ambassador to Israel, who is at the Erez crossing, says the evacuation is going according to plan, but some people have changed their minds and will not leave Gaza.

“We have 141 Russian citizens from Gaza on the list and about 27 citizens from Community of Independent States. We think that the number of those who will travel today across Israel to the border with Jordan and fly tomorrow onboard the Russian plane will be less but it will be clear in a couple of hours. Last year we had about 40% of the people who changed their mind due to the changing circumstances, family reasons and other things. I don’t have information that people who want to go were not allowed to leave Gaza,” he informed.

However, the fate of Palestinian civilians is still uncertain, as Israel is reluctant to let them leave.

Up to 200 Palestinians are waiting to cross into the quieter West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' emergency government is now in charge. One of the problems that Israel faces is that among this group there could be wanted terrorists who might penetrate into the Israeli territory. There are also concerns that not all of them have necessary permits. At the moment Israel is only letting through foreigners and those who are in urgent need of medical care.

Meantime, Israeli aircraft have attacked Palestinian rocket launch sites in Northern Gaza.

Army officials say aircraft attacked two rocket launchers after at least one rocket landed near the Israeli town of Sderot earlier on Tuesday.

It was the first offensive by Hamas militants since they seized control of Gaza last week.

The army says several Israeli tanks and troops also entered Southern Gaza and exchanged fire with Palestinian fighters, killing at least two of them.

According to Palestinian sources, another three Palestinians were wounded in the shooting.

Relief organisations are taking steps to settle humanitarian problems. Thus, 50 trucks carrying food and other supplies entered Gaza on Tuesday. Still, the situation remains worrying.

While the reconciliation of the rival Fatah and Hamas factions remains a distant prospect, the international community pledges support to President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah-led Palestinian government.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met on Tuesday with President George W. Bush in Washington to discuss ways to support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' emergency government. Their talks follow a military takeover of Gaza by the Hamas militant group. President Bush says they are working at a common strategy to fight what he calls extremists in Gaza and elsewhere. He also called Mr Abbas a moderate voice and the President of all Palestinians. Mr Olmert, for his part, also says he is ready to meet Mahmoud Abbas on a regular basis.

At the same time, the U.S. and the EU pledged on Monday to lift an economic embargo imposed on the Palestinians when Hamas came to power 18 months ago.

As for Russia, it says it fully supports Mahmoud Abbas' new emergency government. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, says the new cabinet should take responsibility for the region now.

“Russia, together with the other members of the Middle East Quartet, supports the decision by the head of the Palestinian national administration, Mahmoud Abbas, to form a new government. We think that the new cabinet should immediately take all steps needed to ease the crisis, to improve the humanitarian situation and to start an inter-Palestinian dialogue which will include Hamas,” Mikhail Kamynin stressed.

“The most important moment, in my opinion, is to stop financing war from any side: Western side, Arab side and so on and so forth. And the real participants, as far as financing warfare is concerned, they are there. If some joint international position to be drafted, the cornerstone of this position should be single approach. And, basically, such approach could be like cutting financing of military supply and sponsorship,” proposed Nikolay Sergeev, an independent analyst.

Meanwhile, Hamas has condemned the new Palestinian government saying it violates the principles of democracy and the wishes of the Palestinian people.

In this respect, some experts say reconciliation of the rival factions of Fatah and Hamas would be a difficult task and the peace process is likely to take quite a lot of time.

“Even under Fatah Israeli officials insisted there was no partner for them to deal with. In my opinion, this situation is not does no good to Israel: you cannot just keep more than a million people in a sort of ghetto. You have to deal with those leaders now in power somehow, whether you like or dislike them. The situation is even worse now because the first thing that should be done is to bring together people from Hamas and Fatah and put an end to the civil war, which is really a very difficult task. And I think this process will be postponed for an indefinite future. It means that developments along the path of peace talks are very questionable,” believes Irina Zvyagelevskaya, an analyst from the Institute of Oriental Studies.

Meanwhile, Israel has fired two missiles into northern Gaza, killing at least four militants. The Israeli army says it was in response to Hamas missile attacks on the town of Sderot in southern Israel.