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Palestinians Offer to Mediate Syria Conflict 

Palestinian officials have met their Syrian counterparts as well as Syrian rebels in an effort to mediate a solution to the long-running civil war in Syria, Palestinian officials told The Media Line. The offer came after Saudi Arabia asked Abbas, who has good relations with Syria, Iran, and Russia to push forward a Saudi proposal for a deal in Syria.

Abbas met the Syrian officials in Cairo recently when Arab leaders gathered to celebrate the opening of the newly expanded Suez Canal. He was acting on a request from Saudi officials, Tayseer Khaled, a longtime member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) told The Media Line.

“We are suggesting the formation of a transitional government in Syria with broad powers,” he said. “All sides should stop using weapons, and there should be elections for a new president.”

He said that a constituent assembly should be elected for one year to draft a new constitution which would mark the beginning of a transition to a democratic state, and that parliamentary elections would be held under the new elected legislative authority.”

The proposal is very similar to the Saudi plan, which also eliminates Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as a potential candidate for the country’s next president. Iran, which has poured money and sent thousands of fighters to help Assad, has offered a different proposal, according to recent media reports, in which Syria would be divided into mini-states according to which part of Syria various groups control. The city of Aleppo, which has been the focus of much of the fighting, would be under international control.

The Syrian civil war has ground on for more than four years, leaving at least 240,000 people dead. Millions of Syrians have become refugees with neighboring countries in the Middle East straining their resources.

The Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have long been bitter enemies, and rancor has grown over Saudi attacks on Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are supported by Iran. In many ways, the two countries are jockeying for position in the Middle East, and perhaps ironically, it is the Palestinians who have ties with both sides.

Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, was in Iran last week to discuss a series of issues with Iranian officials, including the deal to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons, which is sharply opposed by Israel. Abbas has announced his intention to visit Iran in the next few months.

After his visit, Majdalani told Palestinian Radio that his trip had been successful and that Iran and “Palestine” will cooperate in several spheres, including economic and diplomatic.”

“Palestine is keen to end the crisis in Syria, because the Palestinian refugees there have paid a heavy price,” Basem Zubaidi, a political analyst at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank told The Media Line. Hundreds of Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus have been killed in the fighting in Syria, and the camp, which used to house 160,000 Palestinians is virtually deserted.

Zubaidi also said that Abbas has close ties with new Saudi King Salman, and the Palestinian president is also close to Russia.

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) is not a party to any dispute or any axis and that is very important,” he said.

The budding relationship between the PA and Iran has grown as ties between Iran and the Islamist Hamas movement which control the Gaza Strip, have cooled. Iran has sharply cut its financial assistance to Hamas, and has been angry over Hamas support for Saudi Arabia’s attacks on the Houthis in Yemen. Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s planned visit to Iran recently was cancelled, to show Iran’s anger over Hamas’ efforts to move closer to Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian officials say they are the only ones with close ties to all of the parties involved in Syria, and hope to boost their diplomatic credibility as they plan to approach the United Nations in the coming months with a new UN Security Council resolution to recognize them as an independent state.