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The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran
"Mr Assad described the renewed Palestinian uprising as a positive and hopeful development"
 real 28k

Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 18:18 GMT
Syria and Iran back Palestinian uprising
President Bashar al-Assad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meet
Both leaders support armed Palestinian resistance
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ended his Iran visit after joining Iranian leaders in backing a continued Palestinian uprising and dismissing peace talks.

After a meeting with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mr Assad said he intended to continue his father's policy of promoting ties between Syria and Iran. Both leaders also expressed a similar tough line on the peace process.

All Muslim states have realised that Israel has never been interested in peace in the region

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
According to the official Iranian news agency IRNA, Mr Assad said Syria would back Iran under all circumstances.

Mr Assad, on his first visit to Iran since taking power after the death of his father Hafez, said both countries had a key role to play to play in the Middle East at a time when the situation there was sensitive and difficult.

New era

Ayatollah Khamenei said enhanced ties would have a great impact on regional developments particularly regarding the Palestinian issue.

He insisted that conditions were ripe for the Palestinians to abandon the peace process with Israel and for a new era to be forged in the region.

According to IRNA, the Ayatollah maintained weakness on the part of Israel and domestic political turmoil in its main ally the United States provided a unique opportunity.

A new era has started in the region... contrary to what is set forth in the so-called peace negotiations, the fate of the Palestinians will be determined in a different way

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
He said: "A new era has started in the region and that to the dismay of the Big Powers and contrary to what is set forth in the so-called peace negotiations, the fate of the Palestinians will be determined in a different way."

He said Muslim nations had realised that Israel was "not invincible".

Mr Assad emphasised the bilateral motivation of the visit, saying: "Damascus is determined to further promote ties with the Islamic Republic.

"Positive and hopeful developments are taking place in the region, including the recent intifada by the Palestinian Muslims.

Israel 'weak'

"Israel and the United States are in a position of weakness and on the defensive and, despite all the pressures that weigh on the Palestinian people, the intifada continues," Mr Assad said.

"Now the Palestinians instead of throwing stones are taking arms," he added, quoted by IRNA.

The meeting was also attended by President Mohammad Khatami, who echoed the support of Mr Assad and Ayatollah Khamenei for the Palestinian resistance and called for Muslim powers in the region to increase their backing for it.

But he was dismissive of the prospect of a negotiated peace, saying: "Now all Muslim states have realised that Israel has never been interested in peace in the region."

Iraq talks

Mr Assad, who was accompanied on the visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Sharamet, met President Khatami on Wednesday for talks which are believed to have touched on relations with Iraq.

Bashar's late father Hafez al-Assad cultivated close ties with Iran, even though it was outside the fold of traditional Arab alliances.

Syria and Iran share joint support for Hezbollah fighters, who helped eject Israeli troops from southern Lebanon last year.

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Syria's changing face
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