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Middle east

Bus blast tops Israel's Moscow agenda

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-24

One day after a deadly bomb ripped through a bus in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in Moscow Thursday in a bid to persuade Russia, a key Middle East arms supplier, to distance itself from Israel’s enemies, Iran and Syria.

AFP - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday sought to persuade Russia to scale down cooperation with Israel's arch foes Iran and Syria as he met Russian leaders one day after a deadly bus bombing.

A British woman was killed and more than 30 people wounded when a bomb ripped through a bus in Jerusalem on Wednesday, hours after militants vowed revenge for two deadly Israeli raids on Gaza, risking an escalation of Middle East violence.

An Israeli official in Moscow said Netanyahu would make the bus bombing the focus of his meetings, with other topics suggested by Russia such as the Middle East peace process taking a secondary role.

Netanyahu, who landed in Moscow in the early morning of Thursday, was later in the day due to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

He was expected to ask Russia not to give any support to Israel's foes Iran and Syria, amid continued Israeli concern about Russian ties with Tehran and its latest pledge to ship advanced anti-ship missiles to Syria.

Russia is a key supplier of arms to the Arab world, including governments which do not recognise the Jewish state, and its weapons exports have long been a concern to Israeli leaders.

"These weapons sales to our region is something that takes up a lot of our time," a senior Israeli official said, confirming that the issue would be discussed in Moscow.

Russia has agreed to send a large shipment of anti-ship Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria in 2007, a contract it has vowed to implement much to Israel's displeasure.

Russia has also built Iran's first nuclear power station in the southern city of Bushehr although it has now broken a contract to deliver S-300 air defence missiles in line with UN sanctions against Tehran.

"We will try and get Russia to take a more active stand against Iran," the Israeli official said.

"There is one country trying to dominate in the region, this is just as bad for Russia as it is for us. It will be even worse for everyone if they go nuclear," the official said, in reference to Iran's alleged drive for the bomb.

Russia faces the tricky task of placating an important ally but also satisfying its important arms industry, which has already revealed it risks taking a $4.0 billion hit from the sanctions against Moamer Kadhafi in Libya.

The Jerusalem bombing came several hours after two Grad rockets fired by Gaza militants hit the southern city of Beersheva, raising fears of a new spiral of violence.

Senior officials said that Israel's intelligence agencies were investigating whether Hamas was behind the Jerusalem bombing and whether it was linked to the recent upsurge in violence in the Gaza Strip.

If it was discovered that Hamas dispatched a cell to carry out the Jerusalem attack in response to the Gaza violence, Israel would view that as a real escalation, the officials said.

"Israel is not interested in an escalation and if there is one it will be the work of Hamas," said a senior Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Russia called the bombing a "barbaric act of terror" that must not be allowed to destabilise the Middle East peace process.

Before departing for Russia, Netanyahu warned that anyone who attacks Israel will learn it has an "iron will."

"There are those who... are trying to test our will and our determination, and they will discover that this government and the army and the Israeli people have an iron will to defend the country," Netanyahu told reporters as he stood on the tarmac before boarding his flight.

The Kremlin said the talks would also touch on the unrest in Libya and instability elsewhere in the Arab world.

Date created : 2011-03-24


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