Palestinian leader makes first Kuwait visit for over 20 years

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 15, 2013 11:32 AM
Palestinian leader makes first Kuwait visit for over 20 years

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Mahmoud Abbas made the first visit of a Palestinian leader to Kuwait for more than two decades on Monday, cementing ties soured by late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's failure to denounce Iraq's 1990 invasion of the Gulf state.

Abbas, due to attend the opening a Palestinian embassy in Kuwait, is trying to rally support in the face of deadlocked peace talks with Israel amid differences over Jewish settlement building on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Kuwait was an important supporter and funder of Arafat, who launched his Fatah movement while working in the oil-producing Arab state in 1964. But ties were broken over Arafat's perceived sympathy for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's decision to occupy his small neighbor.

Arafat said at the time he did not support the invasion but rather objected to the use of force against Iraq, seeking instead a political solution for the crisis.

After the war hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were coerced into leaving or expelled outright amid hostility from Kuwaitis who suspected them of disloyalty. The conflict ended when U.S.-led forces drove out Iraqi troops in 1991.

Abbas was scheduled to inaugurate the embassy in Kuwait city, ending a long process of restoring ties with Kuwait that began in 2001, when Palestine Liberation Organisation Executive Committee member Faisal al-Husseini visited the country.

In 2003, Kuwait snubbed Abbas, then prime minister to Arafat, putting off a visit because he would not apologize for the Palestinian president's stand during the invasion, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported at the time.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by William Maclean and Alison Williams)