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Palestinian leader Abbas upbeat over planned Mideast conference

MOSCOW, April 17 (RIA Novosti) - Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday he expected major breakthroughs to be reached at a Moscow Mideast peace conference slated for June.

Abbas arrived in Moscow on a three-day visit on Wednesday, and is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, when the outgoing leader returns from Sardinia.

"We have high hopes for [the Moscow conference], that it will advance peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis, and prompt the launch of a comprehensive process of establishing peace in the Middle East, including in Syria and Lebanon," Abbas told students at Moscow's international relations university, MGIMO, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

He expressed his hope that the Moscow conference will save the failing peace process.

Putin first voiced the idea of holding a Moscow Mideast peace conference in 2005, and received the backing of several Arab countries prior to talks at a U.S.-sponsored conference held last year in the U.S.

Abbas said that several barriers continue to block the implementation of commitments made in Annapolis.

The Annapolis summit saw a resumption of talks between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Israel after a seven-year hiatus. The sides pledged to do everything possible to draft a peace settlement by the end of 2008, as well as to come to an agreement on the form of a future independent Palestinian state.

The Middle East Quartet, comprising Russia, the EU, the UN and the U.S., is due to gather in Amman, the capital of Jordan, later on Thursday to discuss the agenda of the Moscow meeting.

Abbas' Fatah party controls the West Bank after being ousted by the hard-line Islamic group Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and some EU states, from the Gaza Strip in a bloody conflict last June.

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