He said he had a "lot of expectations from a rising India" when he met Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister.

Al-Assad was given a ceremonial welcome in the forecourt of the presidential palace in New Delhi on Wednesday.

He was scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart, Pratibha Patil, later in the day.

Al-Assad is due to visit the southern Indian city of Bangalore, the centre of the country's software industry, on Thursday.

Accompanying al-Assad are his wife, Asma al-Assad, and a high-level delegation, including Walid al-Muallem, Syria's foreign minister; Amer Husni Lutfi, economy and trade minister; and Emad Sabouni, telecommunication and technology minister.

Visit objectives
In practical terms, al-Assad's visit is aimed at boosting bilateral ties in the fields of energy, information technology and trade.

The two sides are set to sign agreements on taxation and income, and also a co-operation plan on agriculture.

But in an interview with the Indian daily, The Hindu, last week, al-Assad said he believed India could play a "direct role" in improving relations between Syria and Israel.

Israel captured and annexed the Syrian territory of Golan Heights after its victory in the 1967 war.

"India can play a direct role between the two sides, Syria and Israel, and the Palestinians and Israel," al-Assad said.
"That will make the region more stable, and will affect India itself in the long run and on the world at large, especially in Asia."
While India has long-standing ties with the Arab world, it has also recently developed close defence, security and intelligence links with Israel.
The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992. Since then, Israel has become India's second-largest weapons supplier after Russia.
Arab expectations
In advance of al-Assad's visit, Bouthaina Shaaban, Syria's expatriate affairs minister, said the Arab world always looked up to India as a country that seeks peace and dignity.
"India is an old and ancient civilisation and shares a lot more with the Arab people," she told the Indo-Asian News Agency on Monday.
Shaaban said she hoped India's relations with Israeli were "not at the expense of its historic ties with the Arabs".
"We trust that India will stand in support of justice. It cannot stand with occupation, it cannot stand with genocide. That is what has happened to the Arab world," she said.
"We believe India will stand by the Arab people."