DAMASCUS, Syria — Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat came to Damascus on Sunday for the first time since he was expelled five years ago in an attempt to work out a PLO-Syria reconciliation.
Arafat, his leadership beset by the April 16 assassination of his deputy, Khalil Wazir, flew in from Libya and visited Wazir's grave.
Arafat's arrival in the Syrian capital capped a weeklong mediation effort by Libya's leader, Col. Moammar Kadafi, and Algerian President Chadli Benjedid to heal the rift between the one-time allies, PLO sources said.
Arafat's key political aide, Farouk Kaddoumi, also has been working on the reconciliation, conducting negotiations in Damascus since Tuesday.
But shortly after Arafat's arrival, the PLO rebel at the center of the 1983 split between Arafat and Syria condemned the visit.
"There is nothing to indicate that (Arafat) has retreated from his previous stand," Col. Abu Moussa told reporters. "We believe that Arafat will continue his sabotage trend. . . .
"We are also confident that Syria will not be deceived by Arafat's games and tricks."
Five years ago, Moussa led an anti-Arafat revolt within the PLO's main Fatah movement in Lebanon and won support from Syria, which expelled Arafat in June, 1983.
Moussa, who opposed Arafat policies that he said could lead to PLO recognition of Israel, referred Sunday to Arafat's stance as "capitulatory" and "distorted."
Arafat blamed Moussa's revolt on Syria and Libya, but his relations with Syrian President Hafez Assad appear to be on the mend after Wazir's assassination.
Asked if he would meet with Assad, Arafat said, "God willing."
"I feel that I am coming to my brothers and my beloved people . . . comrades of the same trench," Arafat told reporters after his arrival.
"We will march together until we raise the flag of our nation on the minarets and churches of Al Quds (Jerusalem)," he said.
The funeral of Wazir, widely believed to have been killed by an Israeli hit squad, was held in Damascus on April 20 and brought together top PLO and Syrian officials for talks on reconciliation.
Misses Wazir's Funeral
But Arafat did not attend the funeral as expected, and Middle East observers said it was characteristic of the longtime PLO chief to wait until he could have the spotlight more or less to himself.
Arafat was accompanied to Damascus by Salah Khalaf, who with Arafat and Wazir founded the PLO's mainstream faction, Fatah.
Arafat and Khalaf drove to the Martyrs' Cemetery in Damascus' Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp to pay tribute to Wazir.
Thousands of the camp's 220,000 refugees took to the streets to welcome the Palestinian leader. The refugees surrounded Arafat's car and then lifted it off the ground in an emotional demonstration of support.
At least one PLO official said the anticipated reconciliation was due to the death of Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad.
Rafik Natchi, a member of the Fatah central committee, said that Syrian-PLO rapprochement is a new factor in the region and that its effects will be felt in the near future.