"We apologise to Kuwait and the Kuwaiti people for what we did," Abbas said on Sunday when asked to comment on the PLO's position during the invasion. 

Abbas spoke at Kuwait airport shortly after landing at the head of a large delegation on the first visit by a Palestinian leader since ties were frozen 14 years ago over the late Yasir Arafat's backing of the invasion by Saddam Hussein's troops. 

Abbas, who is running in the 9 January election to succeed Arafat, issued the apology despite the fact that Kuwait dropped its demand for such a gesture on the eve of the visit. 

Visit welcomed

"We consider the issue of the position of the Palestinian Authority (leadership) towards the Iraqi invasion as over. We welcome the visit" of Abbas, Prime Minister Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said on Saturday. 

Yasir Arafat sided with Saddam
during the invasion of Kuwait

"Why talk about an apology?" Shaikh Sabah said in response to a question on whether Kuwait would still demand an apology. "We welcome him and his brothers in the delegation accompanying him." 

Kuwait had demanded the apology from Arafat, who died last month, as a pre-condition for normalising ties. 

"I heard a statement by his highness Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad (forgoing an apology)," Abbas said. "This statement was very civilised. It expressed and reflected His Highness Shaikh Sabah's ethics, feelings and tolerance. I send Shaikh Sabah all (my) affection and appreciation."

New era started

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chief, who will go on to Saudi Arabia on Monday, earlier said he was looking to start a new era in ties with Kuwait. 

"The interests of
Kuwait require that we close the Iraqi invasion implications"

Al-Qabas daily

"I hope that the chapter of pain in the Palestinian-Kuwaiti relations will be closed and that a new page and a new era will start to restore trust to the historic ties that bond the two leaderships and peoples," he said in comments published in Al-Rai Al-Aam daily. 

Information Minister Muhammad Abu al-Hasan, in a statement to the daily Al-Watan, described Abbas a "friend of Kuwait", and said the emirate would formulate its future policy towards the new Palestinian leadership on the basis of what transpires during his visit. 

The liberal daily Al-Qabas said in a front-page editorial: "The visit will help restore bilateral relations to their normal level. ... The interests of Kuwait require that we close the Iraqi invasion implications."

Opposition to the visit has been weaker than expected. 

The parliamentary Popular Action Bloc, which has six MPs in the 50-member house, said Abbas's trip was unacceptable until he offered an apology to the Kuwaiti people. 

Islamist MP Walid al-Tabtabai described the government's welcome of Abbas as an "insult to national integrity".