Thursday, March 18th 2010 - 02:02 UTC

Lula da Silva laid a wreath at Arafat’s mausoleum and ready “to talk to Hamas”

Brazil's president criticised Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, warning that Israel's separation barrier, its blockade of Gaza and its continued settlement building was extinguishing “the candle of hope”.

The road leading to Arafat’s mausoleum has been named “Brazil Street” (AP)

According to Al-Jazeera Lula da Silva made his comments while on a visit to the West Bank where, on Wednesday, he placed a wreath on the tomb Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader.
What Lula terms his “mission of peace” began in Israel on Tuesday, and is the first visit by a sitting Brazilian president to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Brazil is Israel's largest trading partner in Latin America, but it also has close ties to Iran and Lula da Silva has defended Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Tehran says are peaceful but which Israel sees as a potential threat.

Lula da Silva laid a yellow and green wreath on Arafat's mausoleum in Ramallah and 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.

The Brazilian president welcomed the Palestinian authorities' decision to name the road leading past the site, “Brazil Street”.

“This shows the affection which the Palestinian people have for the Brazilian people,” he said.

Later Lula da Silva said that Brazil was willing to talk to Hamas, which is listed by the European Union and the US as a “terrorist” organisation.

“Brazil is prepared to talk to everybody,” he said. “All the parties involved must be listened to”.

Lula da Silva's comments are unlikely to have endeared him to Israel. A day earlier, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, said he had boycotted meetings with Lula da Silva because the Brazilian president did not pay a visit to the grave of Theodor Herzl, one of the founders of Zionism.

Colin Harding, London-based a Latin America analyst, told Al Jazeera that Lula da Silva's visit aimed at helping Brazil emerge as a bigger player on the world stage.

“Brazil, under Lula, has been pressing very hard for a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations, and if Brazil can intervene in some effective way in the Middle East crisis, this would clearly do Brazil's chances no harm at all,” he said.

“Their unique selling point in the Middle East is their engagement with Iran ... and I think they hope this policy of engagement will help to bring Iran in as part of the solution rather than part of the problem”.

Brazil also has a significant, and financially powerful, Arab and Palestine community. Sao Paulo is considered the second Syrian city of the world after Damascus; Lebanese immigrants Christian and Muslim are well integrated into Brazilian society, so are Palestinians and the Jewish community.

Brazil next October is holding presidential elections and Lula da Silva is campaigning strongly for his hand picked candidate, Dilma Rousseff.
 

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