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    Russia could host Mideast talks after Feb. 10 - Palestinian envoy

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    A planned Moscow conference on the Middle East could be held after February 10, the Palestinian ambassador to Russia said Tuesday.

    MOSCOW, January 13 (RIA Novosti) - A planned Moscow conference on the Middle East could be held after February 10, the Palestinian ambassador to Russia said Tuesday.

    "The decision that Moscow could hold the conference in spring has been made; it means that after the inauguration of the new American president and after February 10 elections are held in Israel, this Moscow conference could be held," Afif Safieh said on Moscow-based radio station Ekho Moskvy.

    "We have huge hopes for the mediation of Russian diplomacy. Russia is one of the important participants of the Middle East Quartet. We believe the quartet is a tool that can lead to peace in the Middle East," he said.

    Safieh also said the Palestinian authorities hope Egypt will help to establish direct talks between Fatah and Hamas.

    "Egypt has a double mandate today: the UN Security Council instructed Egypt to find a truce to stop fire, and the Arab League gave it the mandate to encourage and hold inter-Palestinian dialogue," Safieh said.

    He also expressed hope that "a transitional government of independent technocrats" would be established as proposed by Egypt, and that it would have national Palestinian support.

    Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, ousting the internationally recognized Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas, which now controls only the West Bank.

    Islamist movement Hamas criticizes Fatah for talks with Israel, corruption, and repression of the Islamists' supporters in the West Bank. Although Hamas was blamed for the failure to hold talks in Egypt late last year, it has said it supports dialogue with Fatah and hopes for a positive outcome at direct talks.

    The death toll in Gaza since December 27, 2008, when Israel launched airstrikes on the enclave, is reported to have risen to over 920, with over 4,000 injured. Israel said Operation Cast Lead was aimed at stopping rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.

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