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Russia sending APCs to West Bank

  |   July 7, 2010 at 1:28 PM
MOSCOW, July 7 (UPI) -- Russia announced plans to send 50 armored personnel carriers to the Palestinians, a move that has been blocked in the past by Israel.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said the vehicles would be used for internal security purposes in the West Bank and that the delivery was imminent, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

"In the coming days 50 armored personnel carriers will be delivered to Jordan and then will be handed over to Palestinian security forces in the West Bank," Nesterenko was quoted saying.

Israel balked at such plans in 2005, when Russia moved to supply Palestinians with 50 armored personnel carriers and two M-17 military cargo helicopters. The delivery was blocked for fear of radical elements, mainly the Palestinian group Hamas, using the military hardware against Israeli forces.

A subsequent deal was renegotiated three years later, including stringent conditions that called for the delivery of the vehicles bar the offensive weapons mounted on them.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has billed the move as a gesture of friendship intended to help strengthen the Palestinian administration.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Lavrov, encouraging him during talks to "put heavy pressure on Hamas," The Jerusalem Post reported. He also asked the Russian minister to use the Kremlin's influence over Hamas to free an Israeli soldier taken captive.

Moscow has worked to move Hamas into the Middle East peace process, a move strongly resisted by Israel, which bills the Islamist group a terrorist organization.

"In all our talks with Hamas we have tried to convince them to switch to the political track and support the Arab peace initiative," Lavrov was quoted saying by Ynetnews, an Israeli news agency. He said he was "witnessing positive movements."

Russian officials have clarified that the armored personnel carriers won't be new models but from the country's existing stock.

Russia is also cultivating relations with Libya, announcing this week that it will modernize about 200 T-72 battle tanks for the Libyan army within the next coming years.

The move revives bilateral technical cooperation and officials say the agreement isn't linked to the West Bank deal.

In 2006, Hamas won the region's parliamentary elections. A year later, though, it was forced to limit its rule to the Gaza Strip after foiling an alleged plot against Ismail Haniyeh, the democratically Palestinian elected prime minister.

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