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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, 03:50 GMT
Palestinians meet Syria's Assad
Damascus market scene with Syrian and Palestinian flags
Damascus said the Oslo accords undermined Arab unity
Senior Palestinian leaders have met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss the Palestinian elections and the Middle East peace process.

It is PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei's first official visit to Syria since 1996.

Correspondents say the contacts open a new era in Palestinian-Syrian relations following the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The Palestinians also met top Hamas official Khaled Meshal.

Mr Abbas has been trying to persuade Hamas to suspend attacks against Israel in the run up to next month's Palestinian Authority election.

Syria has hosted senior officials from Hamas since the 1990s. Its Damascus-based politburo gained importance after Israel assassinated the movement's top two figures in Gaza earlier this year.

PLO-Syria ties hit rock bottom when the late Yasser Arafat signed a 1993 peace deal with Syria's arch-foe Israel.

Mr Abbas and Mr Qurei have also visited Jordan and Egypt since the death of veteran leader Arafat on 11 November.

They are also expected in the Lebanese capital Beirut in the near future.

The meeting follows Mr Assad's offer to re-open peace talks with Israel nearly five years after they collapsed.

Ceasefire plan

Mr Abbas, a front-runner in the election to replace Mr Arafat is pushing Islamic militants to freeze attacks against Israel to revive the peace process.

There had been speculation that a truce was possible after talks last week between Mr Abbas and Hamas' Gaza leader Mahmoud Zahar.

But Mr Zahar said at a press conference on Sunday: "Not a single word was said about a truce... Until now we are still defending ourselves and our people, pushing the Israelis out of our land."

Meanwhile, Palestinian security officials say militants in the West Bank town of Ramallah killed a young Palestinian man suspected of collaborating with Israeli forces.

The body of Jad al-Hindi was found in a street in the southern part of the city after he had gone missing overnight.


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