Yasser Arafat, chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization, met with Syrian President Hafez Assad Monday for the first time in five years after splitting over the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict.
Arafat, clad in khaki with a revolver around his waist, arrived at the presidential palace at 5 p.m. in a black Buick in a formal motorcade provided by Syrian authorities.The much-trumpeted meeting between the longtime foes of Israel began immediately after Arafat's arrival with his aides, which included Farouk Al Kaddoumi, a member of the PLO executive committee.
Details of the session were not available immediately.
The meeting between the two men was the first since Arafat and Assad fell out five years ago over methods of fighting Israel and Syria's support for Palestinian rebel groups, who forced Arafat's fighters out of strongholds in Lebanon in 1983 and oppose the PLO leadership.
George Habash, chief of the marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told reporters the PLO was determined "to invest this opportunity" for reconciliation "because it is a rare chance to back the uprising in the (Israeli occupied) territories and resume relations between the PLO and Syria."
"A meeting between Arafat and the Palestine National Salvation Front is possible," Habash said, referring to the Syrian-backed hard-line coalition of six Palestinian factions formed in 1985 to oppose Arafat's policies.
Hawatmeh said the main points on a draft agenda for the projected Assad-Arafat meeting were: the uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the peace plan proposed by Secretary of State George Shultz, the Arab summit scheduled to convene in June in Algeria and the relationship between Syria and the PLO.
He said it was "essential that all issues between the PLO and Syria be resolved" before President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Moscow for their fourth summit, which begins May 29.
Immediately after he arrived in the Syrian capital Sunday, Arafat visited the grave of his slain deputy, Khalil al-Wazir, who was killed by gunmen at his Tunisian seaside villa April 16. Al Wazir, better known as Abu Jihad, was buried Wednesday at the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk on the outskirts of Damascus.
At least 30,000 refugees welcomed Arafat at the shantytown, where dozens of jubilant Palestinians lifted his government-supplied black Buick and cheered.
"I feel that I'm back with my dear comrades in the same trench," Arafat was quoted as saying.
Arafat, appearing sad and haggard, knelt at the grave of his childhood friend and read verses from the Koran, the Islamic holy book.
Syria's decision last week to accept Al Wazir's body for burial was seen as a signal that Assad was prepared to end his five-year feud with Arafat, who did not attend the funeral.
It is Arafat's first visit to Syria since he was declared persona non grata by the Assad government and expelled from Damascus in June 1983. Observers said his visit could mark a major change in the Middle East alliances.