| by Janaka Alahapperuma

( January 7, 2014 - Ramallah - Sri Lanka Guardian) President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is currently on a tour in the Middle East left Jordan and arrived in Palestine for a two day official visit this morning on 06 January.

The Government of Palestine conferred Sri Lankan President with the “Star of Palestine”, the highest award of the State of Palestine when President Rajapaksa met his Palestine counterpart at the Presidential Palace in the West Bank city of Ramallah. In return, President Rajapaksa on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka conferred the “Sri Lanka Mitra Vibhushana” awards on former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and current President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The relations between Sri Lanka and the State of Palestine are exceptional and we remain committed to extending our fullest support to the State of Palestine and the friendly people of Palestine,” President Rajapaksa said during the conferment ceremony.

While emphasizing the longstanding cordial relations between both nations, “I am honoured to receive you. Our two countries maintain good relations and I wish it will improve more and more” President Abbas said.

President Rajapaksa and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, along with the Sri Lankan delegation were warmly received by a Palestinian delegation led by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Following his arrival, President Rajapaksa visited the mausoleum of the former Palestine President Yasser Arafat in Ramallah and laid a wreath and paid respect to the late leader. President Rajapaksa and his family met the late President Arafat back in 1997 when he visited Sri Lanka.

President Rajapaksa met with his Palestinian counterpart and the two leaders inspected a Palestinian honor guard before getting to bilateral discussions. Two leaders conducted a one-on-one meeting as well as engaged in extended bilateral discussions with their respective delegations. Following the discussions President Rajapaksa and Palestinian President Dr. Mahmoud Abbas observed the signing of agreement on establishment of Sri Lanka-Palestine Joint Commission and the MOU on establishment of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Vocational Training Centre by Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris and Dr Mohammad I, Shtayyeh, Minister Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction.

President Abbas also briefed Sri Lankan President on the latest in the peace process in his nation as well as efforts to push it forward and discussed also mutual and bilateral cooperation.

While in Palestine, President Rajapaksa is also expected to open a vocational training center, plant an olive tree at the Betunia Municipal Council Park, meet with members of the Sri Lanka-Palestine Friendship Association and attend midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

External Affairs Minister Prof. Peiris, Monitoring MP of the Ministry of External Affairs Sajin Vass Gunawardena, Parliamentarians Ms. Kamala Ranatunga and Roshan Ranasinghe, UNP National List MP John Amaratunga, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Jordan Gamini Rajapaksa comprise the Sri Lankan delegation.

Palestinian Ambassador to Sri Lanka Dr. Anwar H. Al-Agha, Sri Lanka’s Acting Representative in Palestine Siraj Ahamed and the Honorary Consul of Sri Lanka in Bethlehem Micheal Shomali were also present at the occasion.

Photos by: Sudath Silva