Abbas renews call for peace conference in Moscow
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
PA president meets Russia's Putin in Bethlehem, requests Moscow's help releasing Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday renewed his call to
hold an international peace conference in Moscow and said negotiations were the
only way to achieve peace with Israel.
Still, Abbas holds fast to his
stance that direct face to face negotiations can only occur once Israel freezes
all settlement activity including Jewish building in east
Abbas, who was speaking in Bethlehem after meeting with
visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he requested Moscow’s help in
the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons, especially those who
were imprisoned before the signing of the Oslo Accords.
Putin landed in
Israel on Monday, and met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President
Shimon Peres that day. After meeting with the Palestinians on Tuesday, he headed
Some Palestinians criticized Putin for not visiting Ramallah,
the headquarters of the PA presidency, while others denounced his continued
support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Russian Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Iran’s participation was crucial to the
success of a meeting on the escalating conflict in Syria, planned by UN-Arab
league peace envoy Kofi Annan in Geneva this weekend.
Lavrov added that
regardless of whether representatives from Iran were present, he would attend
the international conference that Annan is attempting to organize on June 30 in
“We are ready to go. Iran must be present. Otherwise the circle
of participants will be incomplete and will not gather everybody who has
influence on all Syrian sides,” Lavrov told reporters.
“I think [Iran]
must be invited. There is an understanding [about this] among those who
are most actively organizing [the conference],” he said, on the sidelines of
Putin’s visit to Jordan.
Abbas said that Israel was refusing to release
veteran prisoners although an agreement had been reached with the
He also denounced settlements as an obstacle to
“We affirmed to his excellency [Putin] that negotiations are the
only way to achieve peace between us and the Israelis,” Abbas said. “We say that
it is important to hold a peace conference in Moscow, as had been agreed several
Abbas said he also told Putin that the PA was keen on
pursuing efforts to achieve reconciliation with Hamas.
Putin, for his
part, described his talks with Abbas as constructive.
He said the talks
dealt with the peace process, the situation in the Middle East and various
projects between the Russia and the PA.
The Russian president, who toured
the Church of Nativity earlier, said Moscow had no problem recognizing an
independent Palestinian state, as it had already done so 25 years ago.
made those comments just three days before the UN’s World Heritage Committee, of
which Russia is a member, is set to vote on whether to add the church to its
list of World Heritage sites.
If it does so, it would mark the first time
that a site has been registered on that list to the country of Palestine. The PA
can pursue such registration because in October the United Nations Educational,
Cultural and Scientific Organization accepted Palestine as a member and awarded
it full rights to all UNESCO-related bodies.
On Tuesday the Bethlehem
municipality published an appeal to the committee urging it to place the church
on the World Heritage list.
Putin hailed the inauguration in Bethlehem of
a Russian scientific and cultural center.
The new center includes a
theater with space for 340 people and a store for selling Russian goods, he
Abbas later made a surprise visit to the Dheisheh refugee camp in
Bethlehem, where he met with residents and walked through the camp’s narrow
Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.