BETHLEHEM- Russian President Vladimir Putin was to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Tuesday during a rare trip aimed at boosting Russia's regional role. The talks with Abbas, a frequent visitor to Russia, were expected to focus on the stalled Middle East peace process, and follow Putin's 24-hour visit to Israel where his discussions focused on violence in Syria and Iran's nuclear programme. Ahead of Putin's arrival, security was heavy in Bethlehem, with Abbas's residence guarded by gun-toting security officials in black. An AFP photographer said Putin also visited the Church of the Nativity, which Christians revere as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Putin's discussions with Abbas were likely to touch on repeated international efforts to nudge Israel and the Palestinians back to direct talks, which have been on hold since late 2010.
Russia is a member of the peacemaking Quartet, which also includes the United States, European Union and the United Nations.
The grouping tried to plot a path back to direct negotiations late last year, but the efforts have so far yielded little success, with the Palestinians insisting on an Israeli settlement freeze before talks resume.
The Israelis want negotiations to begin without preconditions.
In Jerusalem on Monday, Putin discussed the crises in Syria and Iran with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, who urged the Russian leader to use his influence with Tehran to protect the Jewish state against nuclear threats.
After his talks with Abbas, Putin was due to unveil a Russian cultural centre in Bethlehem, before travelling on to Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah II.
Putin last travelled to the Palestinian territories in 2005 when Abbas hosted him in Ramallah. Putin's predecessor in the Kremlin, Dmitry Medvedev, visited Jericho on a trip to the West Bank last year.