Syria extends support to Palestinians' Hamas government

Syria will expand its support to the beleaguered Hamas government by setting a national fundraising day for the Palestinians, increasing diplomatic ties and establishing direct phone links with them, the foreign minister said Thursday.

While the West boycotts the Hamas government for refusing to condemn terrorist attacks and to recognize Israel, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said his country would not flinch in its assistance to the newly elected Palestinian government.

"We are not afraid of anyone in our support for the Palestinian cause," Moallem told reporters at a joint news conference with visiting Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar.

The leading Hamas official in Gaza, Zahar has suffered two diplomatic setbacks during the past week. The Egyptian foreign minister refused to see him when he visited Cairo last weekend. And Jordan canceled his visit scheduled for Wednesday after discovering a cache of Hamas weapons with which Hamas denied involvement.

Arriving in Damascus early Thursday, Zahar held talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and later with Moallem on what was his first visit to Syria.

Zahar and Moallem told reporters that Syria has set April 30 as a national day for donating money to the Palestinians. Syria will also raise the level of its diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority, accept travelers carrying Palestinian Authority passports, and establish direct phone links with the Palestinian territories.

"We are beginning a new era in constructive cooperation," Zahar said, adding that technical committees would be formed to follow up on the commitments.

He said the Syrian leadership has also agreed to allow into Syria dozens of Palestinians who recently fled the violence in Baghdad and ended up stranded on the Jordan-Iraq border.

"All measures will be taken, with the help of the United Nations, to move them to Syria," he said.

Moallem said that Assad had directed the Foreign Ministry to "raise the level of Palestinian representation in Damascus and facilitate the visits of our Palestinian brothers to their families in Syria."

The Palestinians are represented by a Palestine Liberation Organization office in Damascus, not an embassy.

Hamas is known to be seeking aid grants to make up for the decision by the United States and European Union to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority because of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence. In recent days, Iran and Qatar have each offered US$50 million (euro40 million) to the Palestinian Authority.

There was no mention of a Syrian grant at the joint press conference. But Syria's moves give moral support to Hamas, which has come under Arab pressure to accept a peace formula of full recognition of Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory.

Syria is home to the Hamas' exiled leadership and has frequently rejected U.S. calls to expel the group's leaders.

At the press conference, Zahar played down the diplomatic rebuffs by Egypt and Jordan, saying the Palestinians enjoyed "distinguished" relations with Cairo, reports AP.

O.Ch.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team