May 4, 2023
Iran's Raisi, On Syria Visit, Urges Anti-Israel Unity
By AFP - Agence France Presse
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called Thursday for "resistance forces" to unite against Israel on his second day in Syria -- the first such visit to Tehran's close ally in over a decade of war.
Tehran has long provided logistical and military support to many factions fighting its arch-foe Israel, including some Palestinian groups but also Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah -- a major Damascus ally.
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against Iran-backed forces in Syria since the conflict erupted in 2011. While it has rarely commented on the raids, Israel has repeatedly warned it will not allow Iran to extend its footprint in its war-torn northern neighbour.
During his meetings in Damascus with what Iran's IRNA news agency called "Palestinian resistance commanders", Raisi appealed for a united front against Israel.
"The unity and cohesion of the resistance forces, the region and the Islamic world is necessary to speed up the defeat of the Zionist regime," Raisi said in reference to Israel."
The Islamic republic always pursues the issue of Palestine as a priority in its foreign policy, and we believe that all the equations of the Islamic world are defined under this issue," he was quoted as saying by IRNA.
Raisi's two-day visit to Syria comes weeks after Iran and its arch-rival Saudi Arabia agreed to restore ties, prompting regional capitals to re-engage with the internationally isolated governments in Damascus and Tehran.
The Iranian president met his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday, praising him for "achieving victory" in the country's war.The Syrian conflict has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions.
While the front lines have mostly quietened in recent years, large parts of the country's north remain outside government control.Iran has long propped up Damascus with economic and military assistance, helping the Syrian government claw back most of the territory it lost at the start of the conflict.
The Islamic republic is now positioning itself in a leading role as Assad seeks to focus on Syria's reconstruction, despite both countries remaining under heavy Western sanctions.
Raisi, who arrived with a high-level ministerial delegation, also signed memoranda of understanding on "long-term strategic cooperation", covering fields including in oil, aviation, railways and agriculture.
He said on Wednesday that Iran would "stand by its Syrian brothers in the field of development and progress".
The last Iranian president to visit Damascus was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2010.Assad has officially visited Tehran twice since the war broke out, the last time in May 2022.