By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin expressed deep concern on Monday about recent events in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, saying the situation could escalate into a wider conflict in the Middle East.
Israeli troops were still battling Hamas gunmen on Monday, more than two days after the militants burst across the fence from Gaza on a deadly rampage. The army said it would soon go on the offensive after the biggest mobilisation in Israeli history.
“We are extremely concerned,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a regular news briefing.
“This situation is potentially fraught with the danger of spillover, and therefore, of course, it is a subject of our special concern these days.”
Russia, which has relationships with Arab countries, Iran and Hamas as well as with Israel, has repeatedly urged both Palestinians and Israelis to cease violence and has blamed the West for blocking the Middle East Quartet.
Moscow has said that a proper negotiation is necessary to provide for the creation of an independent Palestinian state within the borders of 1967 with a capital in East Jerusalem.
“We believe that it is necessary to bring the situation to a peaceful path as soon as possible because the continuation of such a round of violence is fraught with further escalation and the expansion of this conflict,” Peskov said.
At talks in Moscow, Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that he agreed about the need for the violence to stop but said such events would continue as long as the Palestinian problem remaina unresolved.
Lavrov said the flare-up in violence had again demonstrated that the status quo in the region was no longer viable. He called for an end to the violence but also said it was necessary to understand why the Palestinian problem remained unresolved.
“We completely reject violence, but on both sides,” said Aboul Gheit, who served as Egypt’s foreign minister during the final seven years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
“We demand the creation of political prospects and a just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” Aboul Gheit said.
Peskov said Russia’s embassy had no information yet on how many Russian citizens in Israel might have been hurt or killed there. He said Russia was in contact with the Palestinians to find out if any Russians had been injured in Israeli attacks on Gaza.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Gareth Jones)