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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 15:21 GMT 16:21 UK
Abbas seeks help at Putin talks
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Sochi
Mr Putin (L) has backed continued funding to Mr Abbas
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has met Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss aid programmes to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

During the talks in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, Mr Putin said that Moscow was a reliable and consistent friend of the Palestinians.

After militant group Hamas won in elections in January, direct funding from the US and Europe was stopped.

But Russia says isolating the Palestinians in this way is wrong.

Mr Abbas said that the Palestinians were hoping to "get out of this crisis as soon as possible", warning that otherwise they would be facing "extremely difficult conditions".

And in a pre-recorded speech on the day Palestinians describe as the Catastrophe - marking the loss of their land to Israel in the war of 1948 - Mr Abbas called on Israel to return to the negotiating table for peace talks.

"We want a better future for our children and your children... Come and make this a year of peace," Mr Abbas said in the speech broadcast live on Palestinian television and radio.

He also urged Hamas to honour existing peace agreements.

Hamas dialogue

In Sochi, Mr Putin offered to discuss what concrete assistance Moscow could provide to the Palestinian Authority.

PA FINANCIAL CRISIS
$116m: PA's monthly wage bill
PA employs 165,000 people
25% of people in West Bank and Gaza depend on PA wages

Last week, Russia transferred $10m (5.2m) in emergency funds to the PA, which is in deep financial crisis.

More than 165,000 workers have not been paid for two months.

Mr Abbas hopes Russia will be able to encourage the other members of the Middle East Quartet - the United States, the United Nations and the European Union - to resume donations.

All have struggled to find ways of donating money to the Palestinians without the need for dealing directly with Hamas, which they regard as a terrorist organisation.

Unlike Washington and Brussels, Moscow has refused to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

It invited Hamas leaders to Moscow for talks two months ago, and after the Sochi talks Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov said the dialogue with Hamas "is continuing".

'Siege'

One of Mr Abbas' senior aides, Saeb Erekat, told the BBC that the situation was desperate for many Palestinians.

"The siege is harming us and it is really going to lead to a human catastrophe," Mr Erekat said.

In the wake of the scrapping of direct financial aid by the EU and US, a temporary international aid mechanism was negotiated at the UN last week.

EU foreign ministers - who are meeting on Monday to discuss ways of resolving the issue - have said a plan was urgently needed to allow humanitarian aid to reach the Palestinians without going through the Hamas-led government.

"The situation is bad, the sooner we are able to put everything together the better," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters.

Mr Abbas' Fatah faction remains in a tense power struggle with Hamas following the latter's poll win in January.

The US says Hamas must renounce violence and recognise Israel - demands dismissed by Hamas.


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