Hamas FM a-Zahar meets Syria's Assad

Syria: "We are not afraid of anyone in our support of the Palestinian cause."

zahar and Syrian FM 298  (photo credit: AP)
zahar and Syrian FM 298
(photo credit: AP)
Syria announced a series of measures Thursday to support the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority government, saying it would raise funds for Palestinians and establish direct phone links with them. Making light of the West's boycott of the PA, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said, "We are not afraid of anyone in our support for the Palestinian cause." Moallem was attending a media conference together with PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, the leading Hamas official in the Gaza Strip. Zahar has suffered two diplomatic setbacks in the past week. First Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit refused to see him when he visited Cairo last weekend. Then Jordan cancelled a Zahar visit scheduled for Wednesday after discovering a cache of Hamas weapons, although Hamas denied any connection to the arms. 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 told reporters, and Moallem confirmed, that Syria had 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 PA, admit travelers carrying PA passports and establish direct phone links with the Palestinian territories. "We are beginning a new era in constructive cooperation," Zahar said. He added that technical committees would be formed to follow up on the commitments. Moallem said 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 PLO office in Damascus, not an embassy. In recent days, Iran and Qatar have each offered $50 million to the PA, to compensate for a cutoff in direct aid from the EU and the US. 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 the peace formula of full recognition of Israel in exchange for full Israeli withdrawal from territory taken in 1967. Syria is home to the Hamas' exiled leadership and has frequently rejected US calls to expel the group's leaders. At the news conference, Zahar played down the diplomatic rebuffs by Egypt and Jordan, saying Palestinians enjoyed "distinguished" relations with Cairo.