Russian FM Says Weapons Sales to Syria Strictly Controlled

In meeting with Livni, Lavrov denounces Palestinian 'extremists,' vows to help return abducted IDF soldiers.

Russia's weapons sales to Syria were subject to strict internal controls and complied with all of Russia's international commitments, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted on Tuesday at a meeting in Tel Aviv with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

The sales were completely transparent, for defensive purposes only, and did not alter the balance of forces in the region, he added. In any case, he said, where suspicions arose that a sale did not fulfill these conditions, Russia conducted a thorough investigation.

However, he continued, the current regional balance of forces is no guarantee of peace, and he therefore hopes that Israel and Syria will reach a peace agreement.

On the Palestinian front, Lavrov denounced what certain "extremists" did in Gaza during Hamas's takeover of the strip, but stressed that Russia does not believe in a divide-and-rule policy toward Hamas and Fatah.

Regarding Israel's three kidnapped soldiers, Lavrov said that he will meet tomorrow with the families, as it is essential that progress be made toward their return. Referring specifically to Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped to Gaza by Hamas, he added that Hamas must understand that there will never be a Palestinian state if the Palestinians do not behave in a "cultured" fashion.

Russian FM: We don't support 'divide and conquer' policy in PA Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday during a brief visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that Russia does not believe in implementing a "divide and conquer" policy in regard to rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas.

Two weeks ago, Hamas seized control over the Gaza Strip in violent clashes with Fatah. The "divide and conquer" policy would isolate Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah in the West Bank.

Lavrov spoke before his meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, having arrived in Israel Tuesday evening in order to receive an update on Monday's four-way summit in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Lavrov is also planning to travel to the West Bank in order to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

In addition, the Russian foreign minister will meet with the families of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

Israel's government is interested in Russia's stance on the Palestinian power struggle because Moscow has not ruled out diplomatic negotiations with Hamas, even after the group's Gaza takeover, and also prevented the passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution expressing the council's unequivocal support of Abbas.

As in previous Russian foreign ministers' visits to Israel, Lavrov will also discuss Iran's nuclear program and Russia's sale of arms to Iran.

Lavrov said that he would visit the family of kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit because, "we must do something about this issue. Hamas' political leadership must realize that there will not be a Palestinian nation if the Palestinians don't behave in a cultured way."

Prior to his meeting with Livni, the Russian foreign minister met with President-elect Shimon Peres who asked him to obtain a sign of life from the IDF soldiers who were kidnapped by Hezbollah last summer, and act toward securing Shalit's release.

Lavrov is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Speaking at the close of the summit with Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II on Monday, Olmert said he would seek cabinet approval for the release of 250 Fatah prisoners held in Israeli jails, as part of a package of steps aimed at strengthening Abbas.

"As a gesture of goodwill toward the Palestinians, I will bring before the Israeli cabinet at its next meeting a proposal to free 250 Fatah prisoners who do not have blood on their hands, after they sign a commitment not to return to violence," Olmert said.

Olmert told Mubarak during their face-to-face meeting at the summit that Israel is also willing to help strengthen the Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas. He called on the Egyptian president to increase his efforts to prevent arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip.

The prime minister also called on Arab states to negotiate on the Arab peace initiative reaffirmed by the Arab League earlier this year. "Let's talk about it," said Olmert. "Give the Israeli and Palestinian people your support and backing."

Abbas appealed to Olmert during their meeting Monday to resume serious talks on the estblishment of a future Palestinian state.

"Our region stands at a crossroads between the paths of peace and violence," said Abbas.

"The decisions of this summit must give hope to the [both] peoples and begin a peace process toward a better future," he added.