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Putin, Netanyahu set for talks on Syria

14 May 2013, 09:31

Moscow - Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were set on Tuesday to hold talks on the conflict in Syria amid growing concern about Moscow's arms deliveries to the Damascus regime amid a spiralling death toll.

Netanyahu is just the latest world leader to beat a path to Putin's door for talks on Syria in recent days, after US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Prime Minister David Cameron met the Russian strongman last week.

In the wake of the talks with Netanyahu at Putin's vacation residence in the southern resort of Sochi, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is also due to travel to Russia later this week.

"The situation [in Syria] unfortunately has a tendency towards a further escalation which can only arouse great concern on the part of Russia... and Israel," Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said ahead of the talks with Netanyahu, quoted by Russian news agencies.

The West and Russia have been repeatedly at odds over the Syria conflict, with the United States and Europe accusing Moscow of seeking to prop up President Bashar Assad and supplying his regime with military hardware.

The flurry of diplomatic activity indicates some hope on the part of the West that Russia could be persuaded to soften its line over a conflict that according to activists has now killed over 80 000 people.

Netanyahu expected to warn Putin

The West and Israel are particularly concerned about Russia's refusal to rule out further deliveries to Syria of advanced S-300 missile batteries under an existing contract.

Netanyahu is expected to emphatically warn Putin against delivering such weaponry which would severely complicate any future air attacks against the Assad regime.

Putin has over the last years worked to improve relations with Israel - now home to a large Russian-speaking community - after tetchy ties in the Soviet era when Moscow was perceived as stanchly pro-Arab.

Cameron said on Monday after talks with US President Barack Obama that London and Moscow had found "common ground" on the crisis. Obama agreed, saying Russia had an "interest as well as an obligation" to work on resolving the crisis.

Particular hope has focused on the agreement between Russia and the United States reached during Kerry's visit to work to convene an international peace conference on Syria.

The conference is likely to be held in early June and not this month as the US works to bring the sides together, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Monday.



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