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Iran leader visits Syria, will meet Hamas chief

Iran leader visits Syria, will meet Hamas chief

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will meet the heads of 10 hard-line Palestinian groups including Hamas on a visit to Syria's capital Tuesday, sending what one of the leaders said would be a message to the new right-wing Israeli government.
The Iranian leader arrived in the afternoon and went to the People's Palace in the Damascus, where he was given a red carpet welcome by President Bashar Assad followed by a closed-door meeting. It was his first visit to Syria since July 2007.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad will be among the Damascus-based Palestinian groups represented at a meeting later in the day, Khaled Abdul-Majid of the Popular Struggle Front said. Iran is a strong supporter of militant Islamic groups in the region, including Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Ahmadinejad's visit to Syria comes as the U.S. is trying to improve strained ties with the two longtime adversaries. But it could turn out to be another reminder of what a divisive role he plays on the world stage. The Iranian president has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and questioned the Holocaust.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is currently visiting the Middle East, said Tuesday the U.S. is still waiting to see how the Iranians respond to President Barack Obama's outreach, but so far the rhetoric from Ahmadinejad has been "not very encouraging."
Abdul-Majid said the meeting with the Palestinian factions is a message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and what he called the "racist" steps it is taking, such as settlement expansion in areas where Palestinians want a future state.
"It is a message to strengthen the coalition of resistance forces in the region," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
While the Obama administration supports a two-state solution to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Netanyahu, who took office in March, has so far refused to endorse the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
Hamas' top political leader Khaled Mashaal, who is based in Syria, was quoted by the New York Times Tuesday as saying that Hamas is willing to support a two-state solution. But he also said Hamas would not renounce violence against Israel or recognize the Jewish state.
Syria is Iran's closest Arab ally. The two countries have had warm relations since 1980, when Syria sided with Persian Iran against Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.


Updated : 2021-04-14 00:24 GMT+08:00