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Israeli Deputy PM Briefs Russian Officials on Middle East - 2001-10-24

Israel's deputy prime minister, Natan Sharansky, is wrapping up a visit to Moscow, where he briefed Russian officials about the situation in the Middle East. The former Soviet dissident's visit comes as Israel is under pressure from the United States and other countries to withdraw from Palestinian territories.

Mr. Sharansky said his trip this week to Russia was planned only a few days ago to brief Russian officials about the latest developments in the Middle East. Israeli troops entered Palestinian-ruled towns in the West Bank, following the assassination last week of Israel's tourism minister, Rehavam Ze'evi.

Mr. Sharansky reiterated Israel's position that it will not withdraw from those areas until the Palestinian Authority arrests and hands over those responsible for killing Mr. Ze'evi. A radical Palestinian group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has claimed responsibility. Mr. Sharansky met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov during his visit. Although he did not disclose what he and Mr. Putin talked about, Mr. Sharansky was pleased with his discussions with Mr. Ivanov.

Mr. Sharansky said that, although the Russians are not in complete agreement with Israel right now, they do understand the Israeli position. Mr. Sharansky is a former Soviet-era political prisoner, who emigrated to Israel and speaks fluent Russian.

Mr. Sharansky brushed aside concerns that U.S. criticism of the Israeli occupation of some West Bank towns could turn into a serious disagreement between normally close allies. He said some politicians in the United States are trying to maintain support from Muslim countries for the U.S.-led war against terrorism. As a result, Mr. Sharansky added, these people in the United States do not want there to be any conflicts right now between the Palestinians and Israelis. But, according to Mr. Sharansky, Israelis are not willing to remain quiet on what he called terrorist attacks in their own country.

Mr. Sharansky also called for an end to what he described as Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's "cooperation with terrorist elements," such as the people who assassinated the tourism minister.

Russia is a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process but has generally taken a back seat to the United States in the past.