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Abbas to visit Iran for international conference

The Palestinian president has accepted an invitation to visit Iran, a patron of his political rival, the Islamic militant Hamas, a top Palestinian official said Sunday.

In Tehran, Mahmoud Abbas will attend a conference of the Non-Aligned Movement at the end of August, said his foreign minister, Riad Malki. The trip "reflects our appreciation of this movement, which always supported the Palestinian position and the Palestinian cause," Malki said. "We cannot be absent from the summit of the non-aligned countries."

Malki's comments suggested that Abbas' planned visit to Iran is not signaling a thaw in relations.

In the past, Abbas has spoken out against Iran's backing for Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, leaving him with only the West Bank. Israel has charged that Iran sends weapons and cash to Hamas.

Iran and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority that Abbas leads do not have close relations, as Hamas poses a threat to his rule in the West Bank. There have been no diplomatic moves to indicate that relations have improved.

Abbas relayed his acceptance of the Iranian invitation in a meeting with Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian in Jordan on Sunday.

Abdollahian said Tehran wants the two rival Palestinian factions to reconcile to bolster "Palestinian steadfastness and reach common ground on resistance in the face of threats by the Zionist entity." He added, "We also support Hamas."

Abdollahian said another invitation was given to Jordan's King Abdullah II through his prime minister.

Malki said foreign ministers from a number of Non-Aligned Movement members are expected in Ramallah at the end of July or beginning of August to work on a "Declaration of Palestine" to be adopted at the summit in Tehran. The declaration would sum up the Non-Aligned Movement's support for Palestinian political demands, including recognition of a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

Malki said that among those expected to attend are foreign ministers from countries that don't have diplomatic ties with Israel, such as Indonesia, Algeria, Cuba, Malaysia and Bangladesh.

The Palestinian Authority is trying to arrange for Jordanian helicopter transports for those foreign ministers so they could avoid Israeli border crossings, Malki said. Israel controls all passage in and out of the West Bank.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said such visits would have to be coordinated with Israel, but he did not elaborate.

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Associated Press writer Karin Laub in the West Bank contributed to this report.