Abbas likely to visit Syria soon, senior Palestinian official says

Azzam al-Ahmad says trip by PA president, who was last in the country before civil war, is ‘possible at any time’

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 28, 2018. (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 28, 2018. (Flash90)

A senior Palestinian predicted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Syria in the near future.

The PA president has not visited Syria or met Syrian President Bashar Assad since civil war broke out in the country in 2011.

“The visit of the President Mahmoud Abbas is possible at any time… I believe [it] will happen soon, if God wills it,” Azzam al-Ahmad told al-Watan, a pro-Syrian government newspaper, at the opening of a new office for Palestine TV, the official PA channel, in Damascus on Monday.

Several Palestinian officials attended the opening of the Palestine TV office including Ahmad, a member of both the Fatah Central Committee and Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee; the PA’s Jenin Governor Akram Rajoub; and PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yousef.

Abu Yousef told The Times of Israel in a phone call earlier this week that he and Ahmad traveled to Damascus by car via Jordan.

A young man walks through rubble in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, October 6, 2018 (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League soon after the civil war erupted. Arab countries have sanctioned Damascus and condemned Assad for using overwhelming military force and failing to negotiate with the opposition.

More than 360,000 people have been killed in the war and Assad has been accused of perpetrating war crimes.

But as the war winds down in favor of Assad, with his troops recapturing key population centers, Syria’s relations with the Arab world appear to be warming.

In mid-December, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first Arab head of state to visit Syria since the civil war broke out.

Later that month, the United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus, some seven years after shuttering it.

In October, Assad told a little-known Kuwaiti newspaper that Syria had reached a “major understanding” with Arab states. He did not name those countries in the interview, which was his first with a Gulf paper since the war erupted, but he said Arab and Western delegations had begun visiting Syria to prepare for the reopening of diplomatic and other missions.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, meets with Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in Damascus, Syria, December 16, 2018, in Damascus. (The Syrian official news agency, SANA via AP)

Unlike many of his Arab counterparts, Abbas has not staked out a stnace on the civil war since it began, Ziad Iyad, a professor of political science at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, said in a phone call.

“Abbas never took a clear position on the crisis because he did not want Palestinian refugees in Syria to pay a price for his comments,” Iyad said. “He did not want Syria to carry out reprisals against Palestinian refugees for something he says.”

There are hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria who live in 12 refugee camps, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

In the past year, he has met with at least three Syrian officials during trips abroad.

On a trip to Latin America in May 2018, Abbas met the Syrian ambassadors to Venezuela and Cuba, Khalil Bitar and Idris Mayya, respectively.

On a trip to Russia in July 2018, he also met Syrian Ambassador to Moscow Riyad Haddad.

Agencies contributed to this article.

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