The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has promised help for rebuilding Palestinian security forces and boosting Middle East peacemaking.

During the first visit by a Russian leader to Palestinian territories, Mr Putin said Russia would deliver helicopters for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

But he made no mention of supplying the dozens of armoured personnel carriers which the Palestinians had hoped for and which Israel opposed.

Mr Putin visited the West Bank city of Ramallah as part of a Middle East tour that has also taken him to Israel and Egypt.

Yesterday, Mr Putin held talks with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

He sought to ease Israeli fears over Moscow's plans to sell arms to Syria and give assistance to Iran's nuclear programme.

In Ramallah today, he placed a wreath at the tomb of Yasser Arafat, whose death last year and replacement by Mr Abbas has buoyed hopes for peacemaking.

Mr Abbas agreed a ceasefire with Israel in February.