Wed, Aug 01, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Putin says Abbas is the legitimate Palestinian leader

AP , MOSCOW

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the legitimate leader of all Palestinians as Abbas continued his visit to Russia seeking support for his government in his standoff with Hamas.

Abbas, meanwhile, accused his Hamas rivals, who took control of the Gaza Strip last month, of committing crimes and called for the radical Islamic group's leadership to take responsibility.

The visit is Abbas' first to Russia since the Hamas takeover, which prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity, with the international community lining up behind Abbas and the West Bank-based government of moderates he has installed.

Russia, which is a member of the quartet of Middle East negotiators, has also hosted Hamas' top leaders for talks in the past year and there was speculation that Abbas' visit to Moscow was an attempt to garner more support for his Fatah movement and his government.

Putin repeated the assurances of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a day earlier that Moscow viewed Abbas as the lawful leader of the Palestinians.

"I want to assure you that Russia will support you as the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people," Putin told Abbas.

"I am convinced that you will do everything to restore the unity of the Palestinian people," Putin said.

"We have repeatedly come out in favor of the legal defense of the Palestinian people, down to the creation of a Palestinian state," Putin said.

"We have had very painful, difficult events recently in the Gaza Strip, but we won't spare any effort to overcome the consequences of what has happened in order to the return to the situation that we had previously so we can continue our path," Abbas told Putin.

"Despite the takeover in Gaza, we feel responsibility for our people and we call on friendly nations to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people so that the socio-economic situation there does get worse," the Palestinian president said.

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