Palestinian leader Abbas was KGB spy in 1980s: Israeli researchers

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JERUSALEM, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Soviet-era documents show that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas worked in the 1980s for the KGB, the now-defunct intelligence agency where Russian leader Vladimir Putin once served, Israeli researchers said on Thursday.

The Palestinian government denied that Abbas, who received a PhD in Moscow in 1982, had been a Soviet spy, and it accused Israel of "waging a smear campaign" aimed at derailing efforts to revive peace negotiations that collapsed in 2014.

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Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas smiles during a meeting with the Norwegian foreign minister in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 8, 2016. / AFP / ABBAS MOMANI (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
PALAC PREZYDENCKI, WARSAW, POLAND - 2016/09/06: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave common press statement after bilateral talks in Warsaw. President Duda and his counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, set a meeting for plenary talks during the official welcoming ceremony. President Abbas will stay for three days in his diplomatic visit. (Photo by Jakob Ratz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Polish President Andrzej Duda (R) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during an official welcoming ceremony in the courtyard of the presidential palace in Warsaw on September 6, 2016. / AFP / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WARSAW, POLAND - SEPTEMBER 6: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Polish President Andrzej Duda hold a meeting at the presidential palace in Warsaw, Poland on September 6, 2016. (Photo by Pool / Thaer Ghanaim/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WARSAW, POLAND - SEPTEMBER 6: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) speaks with Polish President Andrzej Duda (R) during their meeting at the presidential palace in Warsaw, Poland on September 6, 2016. (Photo by Pool / Thaer Ghanaim/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 21 : President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas leaves after meeting with French President Francois Hollande on July 21, 2016 at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, France. (Photo by Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
KHARTOUM, SUDAN - JULY 19: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) meets President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir (R) in Khartoum, Sudan on July 19, 2016. (Photo by Ebrahim Hamid/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas (L) is welcomed by Austrian president Heinz Fischer prior to a meeting in Vienna on June 23, 2016. / AFP / APA / GEORG HOCHMUTH / Austria OUT (Photo credit should read GEORG HOCHMUTH/AFP/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM JUNE 23: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech during a joint press conference with President of the European Council Donald Tusk (not seen) after their meeting in Brussels, Belgium on June 23, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM JUNE 23: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets the President of the European Council Donald Tusk (not seen) in Brussels, Belgium on June 23, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM JUNE 23: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the members of the European Parliament during his official visit in Brussels, Belgium on June 23, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks during an emergency Arab League session at in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, May 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
FILE -- In this Jan. 6, 2016 file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, gestures as he speaks during a press conference, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. A recent poll found that almost all Palestinians _ 95.5 percent _ believe there is corruption in Abbasâ government. Nader Said, a veteran pollster, surveyed 1,200 people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last month. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas listens through headphones during a news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel (unseen) at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrive for a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrive for a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
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The allegations, first reported by Israel's Channel One television on Wednesday, surfaced as Russia pressed ahead with an offer by Putin, made last month, to host a meeting in Moscow between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Both leaders have agreed in principle to a summit, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, but it gave no date.

Gideon Remez, a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Truman Institute, said an Abbas-KGB connection emerged from documents smuggled out of Russia by former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin in 1991.

Some of the material, now in the Churchill Archives of Britain's Cambridge University, was released two years ago for public research, and the Truman Institute requested a file marked "the Middle East," Remez told Reuters.

"There's a group of summaries or excerpts there that all come under a headline of persons cultivated by the KGB in the year 1983," he said.

"Now one of these items is all of two lines ... it starts with the codename of the person, 'Krotov', which is derived from the Russian word for 'mole', and then 'Abbas, Mahmoud, born 1935 in Palestine, member of the central committee of Fatah and the PLO, in Damascus 'agent of the KGB'," Remez said.

Abbas is a founding member of Fatah, the dominant faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the main Palestinian nationalist movement. He became Palestinian president in 2005.

The documents cited by Remez did not give any indication of what role Abbas may have played for the KGB or the duration of his purported service as an agent.

A Palestinian official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said that Abbas had served as an "official liaison with the Soviets, so he hardly needed to be a spy," without elaborating.

The official said any suggestion that the president was a spy was "absolutely absurd."

Adding to the intrigue, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, whom Putin has tasked with arranging the Moscow summit, served two stints in the Soviet embassy in Damascus between 1983 and 1994, covering the period in which Abbas was purportedly recruited.

Bogdanov was in the area this week for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials. (Additional reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Pravin Char)

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