Senior Palestinian official Nabil Sha’ath on Wednesday paid tribute to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez who died following a two-year battle with cancer.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also expressed his esteem for Chavez, and Iran declared a day of national mourning.

Sha’ath noted the former Venezuelan president’s special relationship to “Palestine,” Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.

“Today we remember the words of Simon Bolivar, ‘I desire to see [Latin] America fashioned into the greatest nation in the world, greatest not so much by virtue of her area and wealth as by her freedom and glory.’ President Chavez endlessly worked not only for freedom and glory for his beloved Latin America, but for all oppressed peoples, including Palestine, a country he kept in his heart,” Sha’ath said.

Ahmadinejad, who forged a public friendship with Chavez characterized by lavish mutual praise, hugs and light-hearted moments, may attend Chavez’s funeral on Friday, state news agency IRNA reported. Chavez shared the Islamic Republic’s loathing for US “imperialism.”

“Hugo Chavez is a name known to all nations. His name is a reminder of cleanliness and kindness, bravery... dedication and tireless efforts to serve the people, especially the poor and those scarred by colonialism and imperialism,” Ahmadinejad said.

The US had looked askance at Venezuela’s warm relationship with Iran, fearing that Caracas could give Tehran an economic lifeline as it struggles to stave off pressure from sanctions over its nuclear activities.

Chavez, at a news conference with Ahmadinejad in Caracas in January 2012, mocked US suspicions about Iran’s nuclear work, saying: “That hill will open up and a big atomic bomb will come out.”

Syrian state media mourned Chavez’s death on Wednesday, saying he had taken an honorable stand against a conspiracy targeting Damascus.

Chavez, an ally and regular guest of President Bashar Assad, shipped diesel fuel to Syria last year to help it overcome shortages caused by Western sanctions, and described the rebellion against Assad as an international plot backed by Western powers.

Syria’s state television led its news with the announcement of Chavez’s death, saying he had “stood up for legitimate Arab rights, including an honorable stand toward the conspiracy against Syria.

“He repeatedly declared his solidarity with Syria’s leadership and its people in the face of the fierce imperialist attack it was exposed to, and condemned the American pressure [on Syria],” it said.

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