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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 April 2006, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
S Africa 'can play Mid-East role'
By Peter Biles
BBC southern Africa correspondent

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Nelson Mandela
Abbas hailed Mandela as the father of all liberation movements
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that South Africa can play a productive role in the Middle East peace process.

He was speaking in Johannesburg during a courtesy call on the former South African leader, Nelson Mandela, at the end of a three-day state visit.

Mr Abbas said South Africa had good relations with all the parties in the Middle East.

He said Mr Mandela was the "father of all the world's liberation movements".

'Symbolic fighter'

On Friday, South African President Thabo Mbeki indicated that he was prepared to visit the Palestinian territories in the near future in response to an invitation from Mr Abbas.

The Palestinian president paid tribute to Mr Mandela as they posed for photographs at Mr Mandela's home in the suburb of Houghton.

"We've had a very close relationship for a long time, and we consider Nelson Mandela the father of all the world's liberation movements. He is the symbolic fighter for freedom for his people," said Mr Abbas.

Nelson Mandela, 87, who stepped down as South African president in 1999, joked with reporters that he was looking for a job.

"I want to avoid going to the roadside carrying a placard that says, 'Please - no work - help me'."

After the Palestinian elections in January, President Mbeki made it clear that South Africa would continue to work with the Palestinian government and people to contribute to their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In Cape Town this week, Mr Abbas urged Western powers not to cut off aid to the newly elected Hamas-led government for refusing to recognise Israel.

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