Russian President Putin to host Mahmoud Abbas

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas next week, the Kremlin said Friday.

The two leaders will meet in the southern Russian resort of Sochi on Monday, the presidential press service said.

Russia last week sent US$10 million ( Ђ 8 million) in urgent financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, underlining Moscow's conviction that the Palestinian government should not be isolated after Hamas leaders took office.

Russia's stance had contrasted with that of the European Union and the United States, which cut off aid to the Palestinian government to protest the militant group's refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence since its January victory in legislative elections.

But the Quartet of Middle East negotiators, Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, decided Tuesday to set up a temporary fund to funnel aid directly to the Palestinian people while bypassing the Hamas government.

The Palestinian ambassador to Moscow, Bakir Abdel Munem, on Friday praised Moscow's decision to release the funds last week and help alleviate hardship.

"Despite the blockade, Russia was able to send this money," he told a news conference. "This crisis has touched essentially every Palestinian home."

Munem is from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.

Russia, which is seeking to boost its international clout and its role in the Middle East peace process, hosted a high-level Hamas delegation in March. The Moscow visit made no visible headway in persuading Hamas to soften its stance, reports the AP.

I.L.