Russia calls on Palestinians to unite at Moscow talks

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov hosts meeting about Gaza with Arab League foreign ministers and OIC in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday urged Palestinian groups holding talks in Moscow about the formation of a unified government to set aside their differences and unite for the sake of the Palestinian people.

The talks between representatives of Hamas and the Fatah political faction come days after Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh resigned.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on Wednesday the shake-up was designed to build support for an expanded role for the Western-backed Palestinian Authority following Israel's war in Gaza against its ruling Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

He said also that he hoped the Moscow talks would result in "mutual understanding between all factions" about the need to support a technocratic government.

Addressing the Palestinian delegations, Lavrov said Moscow had long advocated direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority but that, for reasons beyond its control, they were not taking place.

"One of the pretexts for postponing and rescheduling these negotiations is the lack of unity within Palestinian ranks. Sceptics have argued that it is impossible to negotiate when one does not know who speaks for the Palestinians," said Lavrov.

"Jesus Christ was born in Palestine. One of his sayings is: 'A house divided against itself will not stand.' Christ is honoured by both Muslims and Christians. I think that quote reflects the challenge of restoring Palestinian unity.

"It does not depend on anyone but the Palestinians themselves."

Lavrov said the Russian foreign ministry and Russian Middle East specialists were on hand to help and consult the delegates.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)