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President Bashar Assad calls Chávez an "Arab leader"

Hugo Chávez said that the State of Israel is a “common enemy” of Venezuela and Syria

Chávez met with the Syrian ruler during his first visit to Venezuela (Miraflores press office)

President Hugo Chávez and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad met with representatives of the Syrian community in Caracas, estimated at some 700,000 people, in the last day of the Arab leader's official visit to Venezuela. The regional tour of Assad will take him to Cuba, Brazil and Argentina.

Chávez is "an Arab leader" and he is "in the heart" of the Arab world, said President Assad amid applause during his speech before hundreds of enthusiastic guests, AFP reported.

"This is no flattering; it is the truth. We have seen his (Chavez's) stance about Gaza; we have seen Venezuela's historical position," said the Syrian president, adding that Venezuela and his country have been pressured by world powers.

"President Chávez has overcome the pressure of world powers," Assad said.

Meanwhile, Hugo Chávez stressed that Assad's tour to the region is "historic." "Latin American people need a greater presence of Arab governments; we need to become united, and Bashar has decided to take the lead in this rapprochement effort," said the Venezuelan president. Chávez added that Venezuela and Syria have "common enemies" such as "the Yankee empire, the genocidal state of Israel", AFP quoted.

The meeting was held before Assad left for Cuba to continue his unprecedented tour, which will also take him to Brazil and Argentina.

Chávez and Assad signed a number of economic agreements to establish a USD 100-million trade and development fund and to build a refinery in the Syrian city of Homs, among others.

Translated by Gerardo Cárdenas

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