Russian President Vladimir Putin met Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem.

Sharon, at the close of the meeting, expressed happiness that Putin had chosen to visit Israel in the 60th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Nazi German.

‘The Jewish people and the State of Israel will never forget how the Soviet Union liberated the concentration camps,’ Sharon said.

According to Israel radio, the two leaders decided to start a communication system that allows a real time exchange of information, in order to combat terrorism.

Despite Israeli objections, Putin defends Syria missile sale

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is paying a visit to Isral, on Thursday defended the planned sale of Russian anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.

‘The weapons don’t pose a threat to Israel. I vetoed the sale of longer-range missiles to Syria in order not to upset the military balance in the Middle East’ Putin told reporters in a joint press conference with Israeli President Moshe Katsav. 

Putin met President Moshe Katsav on Thursday morning and was to hold talks later in the day with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

‘There are disagreements between the Russian president and myself, despite the steps that the president has taken to minimize the dangers,’ Katsav responded to Putin’s statement.

‘In recent days Syria has given Hezbolah additional rockets.’ He added.

Israel, U.S., rejects Putin’s call for an Autumn ME conference

Israel and the United States disagreed Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal for an international conference on the Middle East this fall in Moscow. Israel also objects Putin’s plan to sell armored troop carriers to the Palestinian Authority.

Putin arrived in Israel on Wednesday night.

An Israeli government source said Wednesday night that Israel would not allow Russian made troop carriers into the country.

‘First let’s see some steps toward peace and then it will be possible to strengthen the Palestinian security forces, which are meanwhile taking part in fighting against us,’ the source said.

‘The entry of any weapons to the territories requires our agreement and we do not want to see armored vehicles pitted against us.’ The source added.

Putin presented his proposal for an international conference on the Middle East in Cairo at his press conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

‘We believe there will be an appropriate time for an international conference, but we are not at that stage now and I don’t expect that we will be there by the fall.’ Scott McClellan, US White House spokesman, said on Wednesday. 

An Israeli official source said Israel would only accept an International conference in the second stage of implementing the road map, and would only accept the mediation of one foreign power, the United States.

‘First we have to execute the first stage, and that is our understanding with the U.S.’ the source said.

Putin is slated to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over lunch on Thursday. Both leaders would discuss, among other issues, cooperation in the war against terror, a natural gas purchase Israel is considering, space research, and commerce and investments.

Putin visited the Holy Sepulchre, the Russian Orthodox Church in Gethsemane, and the Western Wall on Wednesday evening.

The Russian president is scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Friday.

Putin calls for ME conference in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who arrives today in Israel, called Wednesday for a Middle East peace conference in Moscow in the autumn.

‘I am suggesting that we should convene a conference for all these countries concerned [with the peace process] and the Quartet, next autumn,’ Putin said during a joint press conference with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev indirectly dismissed Putin’s call.

‘Israel has accepted the road map, and in the second stage of the road map it specifically mentions a conference,’ Regev said.

‘So we don’t have a problem with a conference… but obviously we have not reached the second stage of the road map yet.’ He added.

Palestinian authority official Saeb Erekat welcomed Wednesday Putin’s offer. 

‘We support this call, and we believe it’s high time to convene such an international conference with the participation of all concerned parties,’ Erekat said.

‘We need to specify the next steps, and an international conference would serve the purpose of resuming permanent status negotiations between the two parties,’ he added.

Putin also said that the Quartet foreign ministers will meet in Moscow on May 8 to discuss the Middle East peace process.

Putin will be hosting a summit with U.S. President George W. Bush upon his return to Moscow, and one of the items on that agenda will be the meeting of the Quartet and the implementation of the road map.

Putin to arrive in Israel, PA areas on Wednesday

Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to arrive in Israel Wednesday night for talks with Israeli Prime minister Ariel Sharon on the Middle East Peace process and other issues of common interest to both countries.

Putin, who will be hosted by Israeli President Moshe Katsav, is slated to meet Sharon over lunch on Thursday.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions and missiles’ sales to Syria are likely to top the agenda of the the two leaders’ talks.

Israel is pressing Russia to join in the international front trying to put an end to the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Russia’s view seems to be that engaging Iran, rather than confronting it, would be a more effective way to reduce the risk of an Iranian bomb.

Also, Israel expressed worries over the Russian missiles sale to Syria; yet, Putin has made it clear that he would go ahead with the deal despite Israeli criticisms.

Putin told Israeli TV channel one on Sunday that SA-18 missiles would not affect Israel’s security because they could not reach Israel from where they will be positioned, ‘they will make it difficult for low-flying aircraft over the president’s palace’ in Syria.

Putin will also visit Ramallah for talks with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  Russia will supply the PA with troop carriers for its newly reformed police force.

Putin will arrive to Israel from Cairo, where he will meet Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.