Sergey Lavrov 298.88 ap.
(photo credit: ap [file])
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov - whose comments regarding developments in Gaza has caused some irritation in Jerusalem - was set to arrive in Israel Tuesday to assert Russian involvement in the quick-moving diplomatic developments on the ground.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said that the Lavrov visit, planned just six days ago, was meant to "balance" Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's trip to the US, and to show that Moscow also wants to be intimately involved in the various diplomatic moves under discussion following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip.
Lavrov, according to Israeli officials, also wanted to be briefed by both the Israelis and Palestinians regarding what went on at Monday's Sharm e-Sheikh summit.
Lavrov has raised eyebrows in Jerusalem recently because of various comments he made following Hamas's takeover of Gaza.
For instance, Interfax reported that Lavrov said in an interview on the Vesti-24 television channel Friday that the outbreak of violence in Gaza might have been prompted by forces wishing to eliminate Hamas. "Somebody wants to obstruct the restoration of Palestinian unity, and someone might try to unleash a real civil war in Palestine with the aim of finishing off the whole of Hamas - not only radicals but the whole of Hamas as a movement," Lavrov said. "This simplistic scheme is reminiscent of recent events in other countries, when the goal was to get rid of bad guys and to bring good ones to power," he said.
"Not Hamas but Hamas's radical wing is terrorizing the Palestinian territories," Lavrov said. He added that Hamas's political wing, who he said was represented by Khaled Mashaal, has repeatedly expressed its willingness to negotiate with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to restore Palestinian unity. Lavrov has been pushing for negotiations between Hamas and Fatah to form another unity government, along the lines of the one created earlier this year by the Mecca agreement. Olmert has said that Israel was opposed to this possibility.
Lavrov is scheduled to arrive Tuesday afternoon, and meet immediately with President-elect Shimon Peres. He will then have a dinner meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and meet with Olmert on Wednesday.
After the Olmert meeting, Lavrov is scheduled to travel to Ramallah for a meeting with Abbas, and a possible meeting with new PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
Although most Western countries have boycotted Hamas, Russia has continued to maintain a dialogue with the organization, and Mashaal has been to Moscow twice since Hamas took power in February 2006.
Nevertheless, Lavrov will not be meeting any Hamas leaders during his visit.
While the situation in Gaza is expected to dominate Lavrov's meetings in Jerusalem, both Iran and Syria are also expected to be discussed.
Lavrov was in Teheran attending a conference of foreign ministers of Caspian Sea countries last Wednesday, and Israel wants to hear his impressions. Israel is also expected to register its objections to Russia's sale of state-of-the-art MiG fighters to Damascus.
In a related development, the Quartet will hold a meeting at the envoy level on Tuesday at the US consulate in Jerusalem. This will be the first Quartet meeting since Hamas's Gaza Strip takeover, although there have been a number of telephone consultations.
The US will be represented at the meeting by the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, the EU by its Middle East envoy Marc Otte, Russia by its special Middle East envoy Sergei Yakovlev, and the UN by its Mideast envoy Michael Williams.
This meeting comes in place of a Quartet meeting that was scheduled to take place Tuesday in Cairo at the level of foreign ministers, but which was cancelled following the developments in Gaza, and the convening of Monday's summit at Sharm.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to be confirmed as an international envoy for the Middle East at the Quartet meeting, The Financial Times newspaper reported Monday.
"Blair's appointment has been 150 percent approved," an unnamed source, described as aware of negotiations over Blair's new role, was quoted as saying. "The Jerusalem meeting is all about arranging the logistics, making final arrangements and getting the announcement out," the source was quoted as saying.
Blair's official spokesman declined to comment.
AP contributed to this report.