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Israeli PM Netanyahu set for third Russia visit in recent months

AFP , Sunday 5 Jun 2016
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin (File Photo: Reuters)
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Moscow on Monday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, the premier's office said, with the two having held talks in recent months over the conflict in Syria.

Netanyahu's two-day trip is his third to Russia since September and also comes as the two nations mark 25 years since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations.

The Israeli premier's office did not provide details on the talks, but Syria is likely to play a prominent part.

With both Israel and Russia having carried out military operations in war-torn Syria, the two countries have sought to coordinate their actions to avoid accidental clashes.

Russian forces have backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the conflict.

Israel opposes Assad but has sought to avoid being dragged into the war. It fears however that the chaos in the neighbouring country could help strengthen its arch-enemy Hezbollah.

Netanyahu admitted publicly for the first time in April that Israel had attacked dozens of convoys in Syria which were transporting weapons to the Lebanese Shia militia, which fights alongside Assad's forces.

In September, Netanyahu and Putin agreed to set up a "hotline" to avoid accidental clashes.

In a further sign of cooperation, the prime minister's office said recently that Moscow had agreed to return an Israeli tank taken by Syrian forces in the 1982 Lebanon war and later handed over to Russia, where it has been kept in a museum.

Israel had sought the return of the tank in part to console the families of soldiers missing in action since the battle in which it was taken.

"To the families of MIAs Zechariah Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehudah Katz, there has been nothing to remember the boys by and no grave to visit for 34 years now," Netanyahu said last week.

"The tank is the only evidence of the battle and now it is coming back to Israel thanks to President Putin's response to my request."

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