RUSSIA, March 24, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM / FRANCE 24 / AFP ) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday arrived in Moscow for talks with the Russian leadership after a deadly bus bombing in Jerusalem threatened an escalation of Middle East violence.
A woman was killed and more than 30 people wounded when a bomb ripped through a bus in Jerusalem on Wednesday, hours after militants vowed revenge for two deadly Israeli raids on Gaza.
The bombing also came several hours after two Grad rockets fired by Gaza militants hit the southern city of Beersheva.
Netanyahu, who landed in Moscow in the early morning of Thursday, was later in the day due to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
He was expected to ask Russia not to give any support to Israel’s foes Iran and Syria, amid contiuned Israeli concern about Russian ties with Tehran and its latest pledge to ship advanced anti-ship missiles to Syria.
But an Israeli official in Moscow said Netanyahu would make the bus bombing the focus of his meetings, with other topics suggested by Russia such as the Middle East peace process taking a secondary role.
Senior officials said that Israel’s intelligence agencies were investigating whether Hamas was behind the Jerusalem bombing and whether it was linked to the recent upsurge in violence in the Gaza Strip.
If it was discovered that Hamas dispatched a cell to carry out the Jerusalem attack in response to the Gaza violence, Israel would view that as a real escalation, the officials said.
“Israel is not interested in an escalation and if there is one it will be the work of Hamas,” said a senior Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Russia called the bombing a “barbaric act of terror” that must not be allowed to destabilise the Middle East peace process.
Before departing for Russia, Netanyahu warned that anyone who attacks Israel will learn it has an “iron will.”
“There are those who… are trying to test our will and our determination, and they will discover that this government and the army and the Israeli people have an iron will to defend the country,” Netanyahu told reporters as he stood on the tarmac before boarding his flight.
A Kremlin source told the ITAR-TASS agency meanwhile that the talks would also touch on the unrest in Libya and instability elsewhere in the Arab world. (*)