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MOSCOW, July 25. /TASS/. The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS) is an important tool for the strengthening of Russia’s positions in the Middle East, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview for the IOPS website on Monday.
"The Society was aimed at the promotion of friendly relations with the peoples of the region with a focus on creating the optimal conditions for pilgrimage," Lavrov said. "However, it was established not only for facilitating Russians’ travel to the holy places, but also in the interests of creating Russian presence in the Holy Land, that very "Russian Palestine".
"Since then, the Society has most actively worked in the Middle East. It has acquired many plots of land in this sacred place for all Christians, Jews and Muslims," he said. IOPS has implemented numerous educational, humanitarian and educational missions, thereby winning high authority and a strong, reliable reputation in the region."
"Today, in addition to the spiritual aspects of "Russian Palestine", this is also a very important tool for the strengthening of Russia’s positions - an additional social dimension of our diplomacy in this very important area", the minister said.
"In addition to demonstrating by the personal example the major importance we attach to establishing relations between different religions, it is necessary to hold special events. To be honest, as of today, Christians are subjected to very serious persecution in the Middle East and, above all, in Syria and Iraq. Their number has decreased dramatically in these countries."
According to him, the exodus of Christians from the region where Christianity originated "would, of course, be an enormous blow to the entire history, the spiritual side of not only the Holy Land, but also the entire Middle East." "Therefore, together with IOPS, our government agencies, we actively use international organizations to draw attention to this acute problem," Lavrov added.
The Russian foreign minister said that 1.5 years ago in Geneva, "we held the first conference on the protection of Christians" with representatives of the Vatican and the Lebanese and Armenian colleagues. "Now we are preparing a second conference, which will be more extensive," he said. "It is tentatively scheduled for autumn 2016. We are confident that the participation of IOPS in this work will make it more effective."