Syrian President Bashar el-Assad is on a trip to Latin American that has taken him first to Caracas.

His host, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, has hailed Syria’s efforts in its fight against Yankee imperialism and free-market capitalism, calling for the establishment of a Syrio-Venezuelan Axis.

Syria - still at war with Israel which continues to occupy part of its territory and unflinchingly supportive of the Palestinian and Lebanese people - is the target of a stiff unilateral blockade on the part of the United States which has been hampering its economic development.

The two countries have created a common fund of 100 million dollars to finance binational companies. They have set up a binational public office for exporting Syrian olive oil and research-development in the agricultural field. In addition, the Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company (PDVSA) has pledged to build a refinery in Syria with a production capacity of 140 000 barrels per day.

President Chávez expressed his support to Syria its conflict with Israel, which he denounced as "the military arm of the United States in the Middle East".