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Palestinian president to meet Russian leader

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to meet Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to secure stronger support for his government in its standoff with radical Islamic group Hamas.

On Monday, he received a vote of confidence from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who told Abbas that Russia considered him "the lawful leader of the entire Palestinian people."

"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," Lavrov told reporters.

The visit is Abbas' first to Russia since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June. The takeover 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 is a member of the Quartet of Mideast negotiators, which also includes the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.

Last year, Moscow attracted the ire of Israel and Western nations by hosting Hamas' top leadership for talks. Many observers have said the Hamas talks in Russia were part of an effort by Moscow to regain influence it enjoyed in the Middle East during the Soviet era.

Abbas, who met with Putin in Jordan in February, made his previous trip to Moscow in May 2006.

In an interview with the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta published Tuesday, Abbas said Russia had to make its own decision about whether to maintain contacts with Hamas.

"This is an affair for Russia as a sovereign state and does not create any problems for our bilateral relations," he was quoted as saying.

"We will present to Russia our point of view on the situation. This will be one of the main topics of the talks with the Russian leadership. Along with this, we cannot interfere in their policies and their initiatives," he said.

Abbas repeated his argument that Hamas' Gaza takeover was a coup d'etat. "We can talk about the reestablishment of dialogue and settlement of relations only after Hamas abandons this coup and its results," he said.

Abbas said last week that he hopes to reach a full peace deal with Israel in less than a year.

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