Palestinian officials and Iranian President conclude agreements in Syria

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DAMASCUS (AP) Iran’s president met with senior Palestinian officials in Damascus and expressed the country’s support for Tehran and Syria’s signing of a series of agreements.

A senior Palestinian government official based in Damascus, Khaled Abdul-Majid, told his Associated Press that the delegation briefed Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi on the situation in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

Iran is a major supporter of some Palestinian factions, providing weapons and funding.

“Palestinian leaders thanked Iran for its resistance and support for the Palestinian cause,” Abdul Majid, who attended the meeting, said after the meeting. He added that Raisi had confirmed to Palestinian officials, including top leaders of the militant group Hamas and Islamic Jihad, that Iran would continue to support the Palestinians. Raisi launched a two-day visit to Syria during which the two countries signed a series of long-term cooperation agreements on oil and other sectors to strengthen economic ties between the two allies. Raisi met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and visited a holy site for Shia Muslims near the capital Damascus.

Tehran has been a key supporter of the Assad regime since his 2011 uprising, which devolved into a full-blown civil war, and has been instrumental in turning the tide of the conflict in its favor.

Iran has sent dozens of military advisers and thousands of Iranian-backed fighters from the Middle East to Syria to fight alongside Assad. Tehran is also Assad’s economic lifeblood, sending billions of dollars worth of fuel and lines of credit. Syrian government forces have regained control of much of the country in recent years with the help of its two main allies, Russia and Iran.

With the Arab government that once insisted on ousting Assad now starting to make amends in Damascus, Iran is backing decades of support from the Syrian president with investments and economic opportunities to ease its own ailing economy. It seems that he hopes to enjoy his reward.

Syrian state media said Raisi and Assad had signed agreements and memorandums of understanding covering multiple sectors, including oil, agriculture, railways and a free trade zone.

Iran’s state-owned rail company has long sought to expand its network through neighboring Iraq and Syria, connecting to Syria’s Mediterranean port of Latakia to facilitate trade. The Syrian opposition and critics in Tehran see this as another attempt by Iran to increase its political influence. The deal is also important for Syria. The country’s economy has hit a record low over the past decade amid rapid inflation, a collapsing currency and widespread blackouts.

The last Iranian president to visit Syria was President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2010.