(photo credit: AP)
Thousands of Syrians lined the streets of their capital Wednesday waving banners welcoming Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who opened his visit with a pledge to stand by Syria in strong opposition to the US government's "imperialistic" aggression in the Middle East.
"We have the same political vision, and we will resist together the American imperialist aggression," Chavez told reporters upon his arrival at Damascus airport late Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad hosted Chavez at the hilltop People's Palace, where the two leaders strolled down a red carpet alongside a 21-gun salute. A marching band played both national anthems as the leaders reviewed the honor guard.
Officials of both governments will sign a document opposing Washington's "aggression" in the Middle East, Chavez said.
Assad greeted Chavez at the airport Tuesday night and thanked him for his support for Middle Eastern nations. He told reporters he saw Chavez's visit as "historic," and that the Venezuelan leader had made "great stands" in support of Arab causes.
"We appreciate your sincere feelings toward the peoples who have their rights and are under occupation, as well as your sincere humanitarian and moral sentiments," Assad was quoted as saying through an interpreter.
Chavez said he and Syria shared a "decisive and firm" stance against "imperialism" and American attempts for "domination."
Earlier this month, Chavez compared Israel's attacks on Hizbullah to the Holocaust and withdrew Venezuela's ambassador to the Jewish state. Israel responded by recalling its ambassador to Venezuela, criticizing what it called Chavez's "one-sided policy" and "wild slurs."
Asked about Chavez's visit to Syria, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the Venezuelan leader should remind Damascus about its international obligations to prevent Hizbullah from receiving weapons.
He cited a 2004 UN resolution that called for the disarmament of all guerrillas in Lebanon and the Aug. 14 cease-fire resolution that called for an arms embargo against Hizbullah.
"We think what's important for anyone having discussions with the Syrian government to do is to emphasize the need for Syria to meet its international obligations," Casey said. "And that includes complying with its long-standing obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1559, as well as the additional ones placed upon it in Resolution 1701."