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. Venezuela's Chavez denies Iran-Syria weapons connection
CARACAS, Dec 23 (AFP) Dec 23, 2008
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday dismissed as fiction a report alleging that Iran is dodging UN sanctions by using Venezuelan aircraft to ship missile parts to Syria.

"The newspapers of the empire have begun to invent stories that I am sending weapons to Syria from Iran through our airline Conviasa," Chavez said in a speech at the Miraflores presidential palace.

The charges are part of a "permanent aggression" campaign by the "empire," as Chavez often refers to the United States, against Venezuela, he said.

The Italian newspaper La Stampa, citing US and other Western intelligence agencies, reported Sunday that Iran is using Conviasa airplanes to fly computers and engine components to Syria for use in missiles.

Since March 2007, the state-owned Conviasa airline has operated weekly flights from Caracas to Damascus and Tehran.

The material comes from Iranian industrial group Shahid Bagheri, which was sanctioned by UN Security Council Resolution 1737 for involvement in Iran's ballistic missile program, according to La Stampa.

The resolution, adopted in December 2006, instructed all nations to "prevent the supply, sale or transfer" of all material or technology that could serve for Iran's nuclear enrichment program and the development of weapons to carry nuclear warheads.

Syria is a close ally of Iran in the Middle East, and both nations signed a military cooperation pact in June 2006.

Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who share deep hostility towards the United States and the outgoing administration of US President George W. Bush, have signed several agreements on economic cooperation.

In return, Iran has provided Caracas with members of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the elite Al-Quds unit to train and reinforce the Venezuelan police and secret services, La Stampa reported.

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