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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sought to repair relations between Palestinians and Iraq on Sunday during his first visit to the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.

The visit is significant because it marks a major step in improving ties between the Shi’ite-led government of Iraq and the Palestinian leadership, which had warm relations with the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that the Iraqi government would affirm its support for the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state during Mr Abbas’s talks with President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Palestinian exiles who fled to Iraq after the establishment of the state of Israel enjoyed a privileged status during Saddam’s rule, but that privilege ended when the US-led invasion toppled Saddam and paved the way for his Shi’ite Islamist opponents to take power.

About 11,000 Palestinians still live in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad’s Shi’ite district of Baladiyat. Hundreds of Palestinians, overwhelmingly Sunni, were slaughtered during the sectarian violence a few years ago in Iraq.

Several thousand remain stranded in refugee camps along the Iraq-Syria border where they fled the sectarian massacres.

Mr Abbas’s aide Saeb Erekat said that one of the main reason for Mr Abbas’s visit was to discuss the legal situation of the Palestinians in those camps.

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