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Putin pledges support for Abbas as lawful Palestinian leader -1

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President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday Russia would give its backing to Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate Palestinian leader.
(Recasts lead, para 2, adds Putin and Abbas quotes, background in paras 3-10)

MOSCOW, July 31 (RIA Novosti) - President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday Russia would give its backing to Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate Palestinian leader.

"I want to assure you that we will support you as the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people," Putin said at a meeting with Abbas in Moscow. "We have consistently urged for the interests of the Palestinian people to be protected, down to the creation of an independent Palestinian state."

"I am positive that you will do everything to restore the unity of the Palestinian people," the Russian leader said.

Abbas is on his first visit to Russia since factional violence in Gaza in June led to a split of the Palestinian territories, with the enclave now controlled by Islamist group Hamas and the West Bank remaining under the control of the pro-presidential Fatah movement.

Abbas's new government, set up in the West Bank, has enjoyed increased international political and financial backing. It has joined Israel and the United States in boycotting Hamas.

Russia, a member of the Quartet of mediators in the Middle East conflict, which also comprises the U.S., the United Nations and the European Union, angered Western states in 2006 by receiving leaders of Hamas, which won a landslide victory in general elections earlier that year.

Abbas said he would work to overcome the consequences of the inter-Palestinian split, carry on with peace efforts and improve Palestinians' life.

"Complex, painful events have taken place recently [in the Palestinian territories], and we will spare no effort to overcome the consequences of what happened," he said. "We have always sought national unity, which would lead to an independent Palestinian state."

Abbas said "Gaza has been turned into a large prison" with thousands of people flocking to the Rafah checkpoint on the Egyptian border, with hopes of fleeing Gaza.

The Palestinian leader also urged humanitarian aid to alleviate the plight of people in the isolated enclave.

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