- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2007

MOSCOW Russia considers President Mahmoud Abbas the only leader of the Palestinian people, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said today in Moscow’s strongest statement backing Abbas since Hamas militants seized the Gaza Strip last month.

“We firmly support you as the lawful leader of the entire Palestinian people,” Lavrov told Abbas, who arrived Sunday in Moscow seeking Russian support in the conflict with Hamas. “And we support your efforts aimed at restoring law, achieving unity among the Palestinian people and continuing the process to seek a resolution to the situation in the Palestinian territories.”

Russian officials angered Israel and Western members of the Quartet of Mideast negotiators which includes the United States, the United Nations and the European Union when it held talks with Hamas leaders in 2006 and earlier this year in Moscow.

But since the Hamas seizure of Gaza, Russia, along with much of the international community, has rallied behind the Abbas government, led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected economist.

“We firmly support the peaceful efforts to continue the process to seek a resolution to the situation in the Palestinian terrorities,” Lavrov said.

Abbas, speaking before his formal talks with Lavrov, told the foreign minister in front of reporters that: “I am confident in your support of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian national administration and I’m sure you will continue rendering support in all spheres.”

“Russia is a friendly state, having a great influence in the region and in the Quartet of international intermediaries,” Abbas said, speaking through a translator. “Therefore the support of Moscow is of great importance to us.”

Neither Lavrov nor Abbas mentioned Hamas.

Abbas was also slated to meet with President Vladimir Putin during his three-day trip, his first since the Hamas takeover.

Earlier, the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Abbas as saying he intended to “discuss all the pressing problems, especially as many such problems have amassed…. Our friendship with Russia is rooted in history, and we will preserve and strengthen this relationship.”

Abbas, who last met with Putin in Russia in May 2006, said last week that he hopes to reach a full peace deal with Israel in less than a year.

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