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Honoring a terrorist…

March 17, 2010

Brazilian president places wreath on Arafat’s tomb


RAMALLAH, West Bank — Brazil’s president placed a wreath on the tomb of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Wednesday and sharply criticized Israeli policies, leading Israeli officials to suggest he was not being evenhanded.

Making the first visit by any sitting Brazilian president to Israel and the Palestinian territories, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has termed the trip amission of peace.” The visit appears aimed at helping Brazil emerge as a bigger player in foreign affairs.

Brazil could play a bridging role: the country is Israel’s largest trading partner in Latin America, but also has close ties to Iran, Israel’s archenemy. Silva has been a defender of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which Israel sees as a potentially grave threat.

Silva laid a yellow and green wreath on Arafat’s mausoleum on Wednesday, following protocol for visiting leaders. The visit came a day after Israel’s hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said he boycotted meetings with Silva because the Brazilian did not pay a similar visit to the grave of Zionist founder Theodor Herzl.

The mayor of the West Bank city of Ramallah draped an iconic Palestinian black-and-white checkered scarf on the shoulders of the Brazilian president, who told a crowd of Palestinian officials and several dozen people waving Brazil’s flag that he had participated in pro-Palestinian protests in the past.

Speaking at a press conference, Silva criticized Israel’s West Bank separation barrier, called on Israel to lift its punishing blockade of the Gaza Strip and described Jewish settlements in the West Bank as extinguishing “the candle of hope.”

Those statements could diminish Silva’s chances of winning the trust of Israelis.

Silva showed “sympathy, understanding and support” to Palestinians, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, but “courtesy, politeness and correctness” to Israel.

“This is a divide we regret,” Palmor said.

Silva later traveled to Jordan, with a focus on boosting economic ties. He signed 11 agreements pertaining to science, technology and tourism, according to a palace statement.

It quoted Silva as saying Brazil wanted to launch joint ventures with Jordan, but did not provide details.

Associated Press Writer Jamal Halaby contributed to this report from Amman.

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