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Putin Calls Arms Aid No Threat To Israel

Offer to Palestinians Postponed for Now

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 30, 2005; Page A12

JERUSALEM, April 29 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin chided Israel on Friday for thwarting his efforts to provide military equipment to the Palestinian Authority's security forces. But he said he would not antagonize Israel by moving forward with the military assistance now.

Putin was prepared to offer Palestinian officials 50 armored personnel carriers, two helicopters and other military equipment for their security forces during his visit with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas bids Vladimir Putin goodbye as the Russian president leaves Ramallah. (Itar-tass Photo Via Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opposed the plan and insisted that the transfer of all military equipment to the Palestinian Authority be approved and coordinated by Israel, according to senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Putin said Russia hoped to give the Palestinians two transport helicopters and communications equipment and to provide training for Palestinian security personnel in Russia after Israel completed its planned withdrawal of Jewish settlers and Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip this summer. He gave no timetable for delivery of the personnel carriers.

"If we want Abbas to fight terror, the Palestinian Authority is in need of this kind of equipment," Putin said during a joint news conference with Abbas on Friday.

The Russian leader said he did not want to "aggravate or anger" the Israelis by trying to push ahead with the offer of military equipment without Israeli approval.

Russia provided Palestinian security forces with 50 armored personnel carriers in 1994 after the signing of the Oslo peace accords, according to Erekat. He said many of the troop carriers had been destroyed by Israeli forces during the past 4 1/2 years of conflict between the two sides.

Erekat disputed Israeli concerns that the troop carriers could be commandeered by Palestinian militants and used against Israel.

"That's not true," Erekat said. "The militants have never taken any of the armored vehicles."

Putin's visit to Ramallah, where he laid a wreath of flowers on the grave of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a brief ceremony, ended his Middle East tour to the Palestinian territories, Israel and Egypt.

Putin, who was making the first trip by a Russian leader to the Jewish state, used the visits to increase the visibility of Russia's participation in the so-called quartet, the group charged with forging peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations are the other members.

Special correspondent Sufian Taha in Ramallah contributed to this report.

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