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Chavez Says Syria, Venezuela United

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By CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 30, 2006; 1:30 AM

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that his government is united with Syria in strong opposition to the U.S. government's "imperialistic" aggression in the Middle East.

"We are here in Damascus to call for peace," Chavez told Venezuela's state television by phone shortly after arriving in Syria late Tuesday. "These two countries are strongly united against the imperialistic aggression and hegemonic pretensions of the U.S. empire."

Syrian President Bashar Assad greeted Chavez at the airport and thanked him for his support for Middle Eastern nations.

"We appreciate your sincere feelings toward the peoples who have their rights and are under occupation, as well as your sincere humanitarian and moral sentiments," Assad was quoted as saying through an interpreter.

Chavez has built close ties with Iran, Syria and other Mideast countries while his relations have grown tense with the U.S. and Israel.

Earlier this month, he compared Israel's attacks on Hezbollah militants in Lebanon to the Holocaust and withdrew Venezuela's ambassador to the Jewish state. Israel responded by recalling its ambassador to Venezuela, criticizing what it called Chavez's "one-sided policy" and "wild slurs."

Asked about Chavez's visit to Syria, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the Venezuelan leader should remind Damascus about its international obligations to prevent Hezbollah from receiving weapons.

He cited a 2004 U.N. resolution that called for the disarmament of all guerrillas in Lebanon and the Aug. 14 cease-fire resolution that called for an arms embargo against Hezbollah. Israel accuses Syria of supplying arms to the Lebanese militia.

"We think what's important for anyone having discussions with the Syrian government to do is to emphasize the need for Syria to meet its international obligations," Casey said. "And that includes complying with its long-standing obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, as well as the additional ones placed upon it in Resolution 1701."

Chavez was scheduled to meet Assad on Wednesday, the Venezuelan president's office said in a statement. Officials of both governments will sign a document opposing Washington's "aggression" in the Middle East, Chavez said.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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