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Syria rescinds Abbas invitation amid UN controversy

Oct. 5, 2009 3:55 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 6, 2009 9:33 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Syria turned away President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday, reportedly over his decision to delay a vote over South African justice Richard Goldstone's report on the Gaza assault last winter.

The president was originally scheduled to arrive in Damascus on Tuesday, following a brief state visit to Yemen that began on Sunday.

The Qatari network Al-Jazeera reported on Monday that Abbas' trip was suddenly called off in light of Syria's outrage over the Palestine Liberation Organization's decision in Geneva on Friday to stall debate on the report.

The wildly unpopular move led the UN Human Rights Council to delay approval for the Gaza fact-finding mission's results until March 2010 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, the Paris-based news agency AFP quoted a Palestinian official confirming that Damascus had "postponed" the visit, although the anonymous source insisted it had nothing to do with the Gaza report.

The real reason Syria pushed off the trip, the official said, was because of a "surprise" state visit from Saudi King Abdullah. The source did not mention whether there were plans to reschedule.

In any case, Damascus was outraged about the UN postponement, which, according to a number of reports, was ordered by Abbas at the behest of the United States and other Western powers seeking to protect Israel from international criticism.

"Syria was surprised by the request of the Palestinian National Authority [PNA] to postpone taking action," reported SANA, the Syrian state news agency.

It added, "Syria finds it strange that the PNA could go for delay, cutting short many Arab, Islamic and international efforts to take appropriate measures to put the report's recommendations into effect."

According to a government source quoted in the Syrian newspaper Al-Watan, Damascus "opted to cancel the visit... out of respect for the blood of martyrs and victims in Gaza, which Israel attacked for 23 days."

While the PA "markets itself as a defender of its people in the face of Israeli aggression," the official added, "Instead of seeking direct condemnation of Israel, the [Palestinian] Authority whitewashed the blood and corpses of innocent children, women and elderly civilians."

The independent newswire Champress quoted an official source as saying, "Damascus is preoccupied with a number of concerns at the moment, which may not allow us to accommodate Abu Mazen's [Abbas'] visit."

It said observers viewed the cancellation a result of "Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' blatant rejection of the positions of Syria, and his policies toward the Goldstone report."

Meanwhile, the president touched down in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a on Sunday, and was previously scheduled to arrive in Damascus on Tuesday to meet Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad and other senior officials, as well as Palestinians.

He was not expected to meet with Khaled Mash'al, Hamas' Damascus-based leader in exile, who sharply criticized the PA leader on Friday for the UN controversy.

Back in Palestine, several hundred Palestinians turned out for a demonstration in Ramallah.
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