Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya were also due to meet a leader of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, Khalid Mishaal, during their two-day visit to Damascus, Palestinian officials and Hamas said on Monday.

  

President Bashar al-Asad underscored Syrian "support for the struggle and national unity of the Palestinian people", as well as the 9 January Palestinian presidential election, where Abbas will probably face a tight race against jailed intifada leader Marwan al-Barghuthi.

  

Relations reached their lowest point after the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority. Damascus charged that they weakened negotiators' hands with Israel in the rest of the Arab world.

 

Landmark visit

 

Abbas said ties between Syria and the PLO would "begin by consultations ... to exchange information to reach a degree of coordination in the peace process".   

 

Mishaal is to meet Abbas and
Quraya

Abbas' landmark visit, during which he is to meet Prime Minister Muhammad Naji Utri on Tuesday, comes less than two weeks after al-Asad offered to re-open peace talks with Israel nearly five years after they collapsed.

 

Efforts to open a diplomatic mission in Damascus were at the top of the Palestinian agenda.

  

"All Arab countries want coordination between the Syrians, Palestinians and the Lebanese if the peace process is revived," said Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara, calling inter-Palestinian dialogue "in the patriotic interests of the Palestinians".

 

Nayif al-Hawatma, secretary-general of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), speaking to Aljazeera in Damascus said: "We have made long-term efforts to build Palestinian-Arab relations in the context of mutual Arab solidarity.

 

"I have personally worked for a long time to normalise the Palestinian-Syrian-Lebanese relationships in order to ease the tension prevailing among them," he said.  

 

National welfare

 

"The Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and Arab national welfare lies in the immediate normalisation of the Palestinian-Syrian relationship," he said.

 

"The Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese and Arab national welfare lies in the immediate normalisation of the Palestinian-Syrian relationship"

Nayif al-Hawatma,
secretary-general, DFLP

"This is a necessity for the Palestinians and Syrians as their lands are occupied," he added.  

 

"The Palestinian Authority works in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Liberation Organisation works for all the Palestinians, as it is the agent unifying all of them," al-Hawatma said.  

 

"We call on the Palestinian Authority to adopt a complete democratic process through which we can re-elect the presidential, legislative and municipal bodies and thereby establish a parliamentary democratic system.

 

"This process will strengthen our people's will to throw out the occupation," al-Hawatma said.