Netanyahu's plans could lead to 'sharp escalation of tensions': Moscow

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A sign leading to the Palestinian village of Marj Ghazal in the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is seen on Wednesday. — AFP

MOSCOW — Russia warned on Wednesday that Benjamin Netanyahu's pledge to annex the West Bank's Jordan Valley could escalate tensions as the Israeli prime minister geared up to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian foreign ministry said it was concerned over the Israeli leadership's plan, saying its implementation could lead to a "sharp escalation of tensions in the region (and) undermine hopes for the establishment of long-awaited peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors".

Moscow pointed out that Netanyahu's pre-election pledge drew a "sharp negative reaction" in the Arab world and reiterated its call for direct talks between Israel and Palestinians.

Battling to win re-election in Sept. 17 polls, Netanyahu issued the deeply controversial pledge on Tuesday night, drawing firm condemnation from the Palestinians, Arab states, the United Nations and the European Union.

On Thursday, Netanyahu plans to travel to the Russian resort of Sochi for talks with Putin as he fights to continue his reign as the country's longest-serving prime minister.

"The leaders will discuss regional issues including the situation in Syria, with an emphasis on tightening the military coordination mechanisms," Netanyahu's office said on Wednesday.

Netanyahu is also expected to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Netanyahu also met with Putin in Moscow days ahead of Israel's April 9 elections.

Putin drew strong condemnation from the West when Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The Russian president has brushed aside international criticism, defending the takeover of Crimea as a move to protect its Russian-speaking population. — AFP


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