Officials in Beirut said Arafat thanked Lahoud late on Thursday "for his positions that back the Palestinians and for being the first Arab head of state to condemn the Israeli decision to remove him”.

  

It was the first contact between the two leaders since a telephone conversation in March 2002, when the Israeli army siege prevented Arafat from attending the annual Arab summit held in Beirut.

  

On Saturday, Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara telephoned Arafat with a message of support from President Bashar al-Assad, whose country is the main power broker in neighbouring Lebanon.

  

The relations of Lebanon and Syria with Arafat have been cool since the 1993 Oslo peace accords, with the two states accusing the Palestinian leader of breaking ranks and weakening Arab bargaining power with the Jewish state.

  

Arafat, 74, has been confined to his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah for the past 20 months.