Syria's Assad says Chavez death is "personal loss"

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaks with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Damascus October 21, 2010. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad mourned the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday, saying he was a great man for opposing the “war on Syria”.

Chavez, an ally and regular guest of Assad’s, shipped diesel fuel to Syria last year to help it overcome shortages caused by Western sanctions, and described the Syrian conflict as an international plot backed by Western powers.

Assad described Chavez’s death as “a great loss to me personally and to the people of Syria”.

The Syrian leader has been battling an uprising that broke out in March 2011. The mainly peaceful protests were met with force and gradually grew into an armed insurgency in which the United Nations says 70,000 people have been killed.

Syria’s state television led its news with the announcement of Chavez’s death, saying he had “stood up for legitimate Arab rights, including an honorable stand towards the conspiracy against Syria”.

“He repeatedly declared his solidarity with Syria’s leadership and its people in the face of the fierce imperialist attack it was exposed to, and condemned the American pressure (on Syria),” it said.

Chavez died on Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer. He suffered multiple complications after his latest operation in December and had not made a public appearance since.

Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Michael Roddy