Putin and Abbas to discuss Russian aid

The Palestinian and Russian presidents will shortly hold talks on aid to the Palestinians and ways to revive dialogue with Israel.

    The two leaders met last year when Putin visited Ram Allah

    Vladimir Putin is to host the Palestinian leader on Monday at his residence in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

    Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Sochi late on Sunday, Russian news agencies said.

    A Kremlin official said in a statement that the meeting "will be oriented towards a search for ways to restore dialogue on crucial aspects" of the peace process, focusing on implementation of the stalled road map peace plan endorsed by the Quartet of Middle East negotiators - Russia, the US, the European Union and the UN.

    The official said Putin and Abbas would also discuss "what Russia could do additionally" to help improve the situation, revive Israeli-Palestinian contacts and encourage the sides to reach agreements on security and other issues.

    Putin has sought to boost Russia's Middle East role and held talks with Abbas during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories just over a year ago.

    Also on Monday, the EU will take a first look at how it can contribute to an international effort to maintain humanitarian aid to the Palestinians by circumventing their Hamas-led government.

    Aid debate

    The 25 EU foreign ministers will debate how the EU should funnel future funds to the Palestinians - 1.4 million of whom live off food aid - and to what areas, diplomats said.

    They have said the EU wants to move quickly and also see Israel restore payments of $50 million a month in taxes it collects on imports headed for the Palestinian areas.

    Hamas leaders visited Moscow
    in March at Putin's invitation

    The EU is the largest source of aid for the Palestinians. Its annual aid package totals $636 million a year in all manner of assistance. Half of that comes from the EU budget, the rest from the EU governments.

    The US, the EU and others suspended direct financial aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas came to power in January elections.

    The cut-off, as well as Israel's refusal to transfer about $50 million a month in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, has plunged the West Bank and Gaza into a financial emergency.

    Aid to the Palestinians will also be a significant topic of the Putin-Abbas meeting.

    The Russian official said that Moscow, which transferred $10 million to an account controlled by Abbas earlier this month, "intends to continue to help the Palestinian Authority in establishing a normal life for the Palestinian people".

    EU package

    For its part, Israel has reacted coolly to the Quartet's proposal to create an international mechanism to funnel humanitarian aid to the Palestinians by bypassing the Hamas government.

    Western aid cut-off has hit hard
    ordinary Palestinian families

    The proposed financing facility would be set up under the auspices of an international organisation such as the World Bank, the IMF or the UN and jointly controlled by the Quartet to avoid direct contact with Hamas - which the EU and the US consider a terrorist organisation.

    EU officials said European foreign ministers on Monday would discuss how funding could continue, what should be the priority areas and what contributions would come from other donors, notably the US and Arab states.

    The EU has prepared an emergency package of $43 million for education and health care it would like to see disbursed soon.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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