DAMASCUS - President Bashar al-Assad renewed Syria's support for the Palestinians on Monday in the heat of a military escalation sparked by the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants.
"Syria stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people in their crisis and faced with Israeli repression," Assad told the country's highest political body, the state news agency SANA reported.
"Israel's aggressive stand and its unjust accusations against (Palestinian) national forces serve to increase our commitment to Arab rights," he said in a first reaction to the crisis triggered by the June 25 capture of the soldier.
Chairing a meeting of the National Progressive Front, Assad pointed to "Syria's efforts to support the Palestinian people and bring about the success of the national dialogue between the different Palestinian factions".
Israel has threatened to kill leaders of the Palestinian movement Hamas it holds responsible for the soldier's capture in a raid on the Gaza border, including its political supremo Khaled Meshaal who lives in exile in Syria.
In a clear message to Assad last week, four Israeli warplanes overflew one of his palaces in northern Syria while he was in residence.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert renewed calls for Syria to expel Palestinian militant leaders.
"The key to resolving the crisis is in Damascus since the directives and orders for terrorist actions originate there," Olmert said in a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"The Syrian leadership must dismantle the terrorist organization command centres located in its territory," he added, according to the premier's office.