MOSCOW, (Reuters) – Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Friday Moscow would supply military hardware to the Palestinian Authority only if Israel agreed, Interfax news agency reported.
“Supplies of military hardware to Palestine can only be carried out with Israel’s consent and through its territory,” he said, a clear reference to plans, now suspended, to sell the Palestinians two helicopters and 50 armoured personal carriers (APCs).
Last year the Palestinian Authority sought to buy Russian hardware, but no definite deal was reached, and it was not immediately clear what stage negotiations had reached before they were suspended following the Jan. 25 Palestinian election victory by radical Islamist group Hamas.
On Monday, Interfax news agency quoted a “well-informed source” in Moscow as saying sales of APCs were put on hold after the Hamas win, but the source did not mention the helicopters.
“It would be short-sighted to say the least to make decisions on supplying APCs to Palestine after the Hamas victory and amid the current situation in the Middle East,” the source said. “We are taking a break on the issue for now.”
Israel welcomed the Russian decision the arms sales.
“We welcome the Russian statement that they are re-evaluating and they expect to continue any such future cooperation also in coordination with us,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
But Russian Armed Forces chief-of-staff General Yuri Baluyevsky said on Thursday the plan could be revived if a visit by Hamas leaders to Russia planned for early March went well.
“Russia may make a decision on supplying military hardware to Palestine after the Moscow talks,” Russian news agencies quoted Baluyevsky as saying.
Ivanov’s remarks were clearly meant to downplay Baluyevsky’s suggestions. “The consideration of the issue is at a preliminary stage,” the Defence Minister said.
Russian officials have explained President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to Hamas leaders as aimed at encouraging the group, branded as ‘terrorists’ by the West, to stick to the commitments of the previous Palestinian administration.
The officials have said Moscow would convey to Hamas the demands of the ‘quartet’ of Middle East mediators, which also includes the United States, European Union and the United Nations, to recognise Israel and stop armed attacks against Israelis.
But Russia’s envoy in the Middle east was quoted as saying on Friday that Moscow would not pressurise Hamas in any way.
“We are not going to demand anything at the meeting,” Interfax quoted Alexander Kalugin as saying. “It’s up to them to decide what answers the interests of the Palestinian people, what helps solve problems in Israeli-Palestinian relations.”