In rare visit to Iraq, Abbas offers Palestinian ‘expertise’ to help rebuilding
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In rare visit to Iraq, Abbas offers Palestinian ‘expertise’ to help rebuilding

Senior officials deny reports PA president will make first Syria visit since outbreak of civil war to meet with Assad

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

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in Baghdad on March 3, 2019. (Credit: Wafa)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in Baghdad on March 3, 2019. (Credit: Wafa)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that he had offered Palestinian “expertise and companies” to help Iraq with its postwar reconstruction, the official PA news site Wafa said.

Abbas, who is making his first visit to Iraq in several years, said at a press conference in Baghdad that he made the offer to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Wafa report said. He met Abdul Mahdi on Sunday.

The PA president said Palestinians were “ready to contribute to rebuilding Iraq,” which has suffered major material losses in armed conflicts over the past 17 years, with “Palestinian expertise and companies,” the report stated, without elaborating.

The Palestinians sometimes sponsor limited international aid projects. For instance, the PA Health Ministry recently sent a delegation of 16 doctors to Venezuela to provide medical care to locals there.

It is not clear how much resources Ramallah, which is heavily cash-strapped, could provide to help rebuild Iraq. The Palestinians are themselves very reliant on international assistance.

Abbas is slated to fly to Jordan on Monday and then return to the West Bank.

Iraqi policemen inspect the aftermath scene of a mortar and bombing attack on the Sayyid Mohammed shrine in the Balad area, located 70 kilometers (around 45 miles) north of Baghdad, on July 8, 2016. (AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

Separately, several senior Palestinian officials on Sunday denied reports that Abbas would soon visit Syria and meet President Bashar Assad.

Channel 13 news and other outlets reported that Abbas would head to Syria in the coming days for the first time since the outbreak of civil war in the country in 2011.

“The reports are totally incorrect,” Majdi al-Khaldi, Abbas’s senior diplomatic affairs adviser, who was traveling with the PA president in Iraq on Sunday, told The Times of Israel. “We have not made arrangements for a visit to Syria.”

PLO Executive Committee members Wasel Abu Yousef and Azzam al-Ahmad confirmed Khaldi’s comments in phone calls.

Abu Yousef, however, said Abbas “theoretically would like to visit Damascus.”

In early February, Abbas told Sputnik, a Russian state-run news site, that the Palestinians would in principle support the readmission of Syria into the Arab League.

Syria’s membership in the Arab League was suspended in November 2011 following the eruption of the civil war. But as Assad’s troops recapture key population centers in the country — with the help of allies Russia and Iran — his government’s relations with the Arab world appear to be warming.

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

In recent months, several senior members of the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership, including Abu Yousef and Ahmad, visited Damascus and met high-level Syrian officials.

In January, Palestine TV also opened a new office in the Syrian capital.

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