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UN could deploy peacekeepers in Gaza - Lavrov -1

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday he did not rule out that United Nations peacekeepers could be sent to the Gaza Strip if all sides to the conflict agree.
(Recasts headline, lead, adds quotes, details in paras 2, 4-13)

MOSCOW, June 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday he did not rule out that United Nations peacekeepers could be sent to the Gaza Strip if all sides to the conflict agree.

The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, held talks earlier Friday with the UN Security Council, at which he proposed deploying a peacekeeping force in Gaza, which is now fully under the control of Islamist group Hamas following six days of fighting.

Lavrov told journalists: "The idea of sending multinational forces to the region will demand the consent of all interested sides, and all Palestinians, including Fatah and Hamas."

The suggestion that peacekeepers could be deployed inside the Gaza Strip was earlier dismissed by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. She said the proposal was not relevant now that "Hamas controls everything," but that forces could be deployed along Egypt's border with Gaza to stop weapons smuggling.

The foreign minister of Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, also rejected the idea of a peacekeeping force in Gaza as unrealistic.

Islamist militant group Hamas's string of recent victories in Gaza, where it has taken control of the presidential compound and all key security strongholds, suggests the likelihood that the Palestinian territories will be permanently split into an isolated Hamas-led Islamic state in Gaza and a Fatah-led state in the West Bank.

The Russian foreign minister said: "I am convinced that all international mediators should try to make it possible for Palestinians to return as soon as possible to the implementation of agreements reached in Mecca, and to avoid any steps that could drive a wedge between Palestinians, and that they should do everything possible to unify the Palestinians."

He said Russia supports an initiative from the Arab League, envisioning the start of a specific dialogue on means of reaching a settlement. The proposal foresees the normalization of Arab countries' relations with Israel in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories up to the 1967 borders, and solution to the Palestinian refugee crisis based on UN resolutions.

Hamas earlier declared an amnesty for all its Fatah prisoners, including the Palestinian pro-presidential group's commanders.

Speaking at a press conference in Gaza City, where Hamas seized the presidential compound and key security strongholds on Thursday, Hamas spokesman Abu Obeideh said: "On this great day we declare an amnesty for all those we captured, and for those who were involved in torture and looting and anarchy."

After the toppling of local forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, eyewitnesses have reported mass turmoil in Gaza City, with civilians and militants looting property from the presidential compound.

Abbas earlier declared a state of emergency and dissolved the government, saying he would form a new cabinet, replacing the governing coalition in which power has been shared since March by the two rival groups. But deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said the government would ignore the decision, which he called "hasty," and blamed Fatah for provoking the Islamists.

More than 30 people died in Thursday's battles, during which Hamas fighters, better armed and more organized than their Fatah opponents, gained a series of decisive victories in Gaza. In the last six days, at least 100 have died in Gaza shootouts.

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