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As Mahmoud Abbas travels to Moscow seeking Russian support, tensions between Israel and Iran rise


Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In a Middle East increasingly torn by wars and divisions, regional and global leaders are trying to boost (old) alliances and dampen new sources of tensions.

Against this backdrop, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas flew to Russia on an official visit today. In Moscow, he is set to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin just two weeks after the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Russian capital.

The Palestinian leader is seeking the Kremlin’s support against the Israel-US axis. The relationship is stronger today after a period of crisis during the previous Obama administration and especially since US President Donald Trump decided to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy to the city.

Following statements from the White House, Palestinian leaders have cut off all relations with the United States, whom they no longer deem a credible mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This explains why Mahmoud Abbas is trying to renew relations with Russia and have a strong ally in the UN Security Council where he is expected to speak on 20 February.

Analysts and experts see Abbas’s visit as an attempt to reinforce ties between Moscow and the Palestinians in order to counter the effects of improved relations between Russia and Israel.

However, although the meeting with Putin may be a necessary political step, its effects on international relations and the balance of power in the Middle East will be marginal at best.

In fact, last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov estimated the chances of resuming direct talks between Israel and Palestine as “close to zero”.

Amid the war of words and fluid alliances, US President Donald Trump appears to have taken a step back from Israel’s leaders for the first time.

In an interview, he said he was “not necessarily sure” Israel was seeking to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Previously Trump had accused Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian leaders for what he saw as their unwillingness to negotiate peace, but had refrained from criticising Israel’s positions.

Now the US leader expressed concerns over Israeli settlement activity in Jerusalem and the West Bank, which the Netanyahu government has been intensifying.

“The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, tensions are rising in Syria, with a confrontation between Israel and Iran becoming increasingly possible.

After carrying out what appear to be the largest strikes in Syria in decades, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said “We inflicted on Saturday a heavy blow to Iranian and Syrian forces”, adding that his country would defend itself “against any attack”.

Israel carried out attacks in Syrian territory against Iranian targets after an Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace, a claim Iran immediately dismissed.

In a joint statement Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Shia movement Hezbollah said that Israel’s airspace had not been violated, accusing Israel of lying in order to have an excuse to carry out its operations in Syria.

During the raids in Syria on Saturday, an Israeli F-16 fighter jet was shot down by Syria air defences, believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in combat since 2006.

According to an Israeli military spokesperson, the pilots ejected from the plane in Israel and were taken to hospital, one of them in serious conditions. (DS)

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