Russia hailed Israeli withdrawal from Gaza

Russian diplomats view the start of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip as a key step in the Mideast peace process.

"Russia welcomes the withdrawal as an important event in Palestinian-Israeli relations," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Thousands of Israeli troops marched into Gaza's settlements Monday to deliver eviction notices to settlers. Over the next three weeks, Israel plans to remove all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank - the first time it will dismantle settlements in areas captured in the 1967 Israeli-Arab war and claimed by the Palestinians for their future state.

"Israel's pullout from Gaza and part of the West Bank ... must give an additional impetus to the revival of the peace process and the advance toward a fair Palestinian-Israeli settlement within the 'road map' framework," the Russian statement said. "The ultimate goal is the creation of an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security."

The ministry emphasized the need to avert incidents that could disrupt the withdrawal.

"The Israelis and the Palestinians, acting in close cooperation and observing their obligations and agreements, must do all they can to ensure calm," it said.

Russia is one of the four members of the so-called Quartet of international mediators that drafted the "road map" peace plan, which has been stalled since its launch in June 2003. The others are the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, the AP reports.

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