|Israel Resource Review
||4th January, 2000
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Eye on Syria:
Timely Report on Developments
Vol. 1 No. 2
Prepared by Steve Rodan,
head of MENL, Middle East Newsline
Welcome to Eye on Syria, a timely report on developments
in Syria as well as a review of pertinent articles in the Syrian
official press as well as what is written about Syria. The
service is meant to illuminate Westerners to one of the most
closed societies in the world. The report is based on facts and
analysis culled from numerous Syrian and Arab newspapers as well
as diplomatic sources by correspondents in Jerusalem, London and
First, a quick look at the Syrian media. Syrian newspapers, radio and
television are all owned and controlled by the regime. Nothing appears in
the media without the approval of authorities. Broadcasters are given text
to read and have no room to improvise.
Syria has one radio station, television station and news service. They
are leaden and dull but they faithfully reflect propaganda from Damascus.
Slogans are repeated ad nauseum in a reflection of the highly ideological
regime. We will spare subscribers of the rhetoric and, instead, give the
main points of the media.
There are four Syrian dailies and they are remarkably similar. Al Baath
is the newspaper of the ruling Baath Party. It focuses on so-called popular
issues, largely the activities of the party around the country. Al Thawra is
the ideological organ of the Syrian regime. Tishrin is the government daily.
The Syrian Times is the English-language daily.
Quote of the week:
"Our concern for the Golan shouldn't make us oblivious of the fact that
Palestine is the center of the Arab Israeli conflict. Our rights as Muslims
and Arabs in Palestine are sacred and inalienable which no body can
-- Muslim Brotherhood in Syria announces its opposition to any peace
agreement with Israel.
Today in Syria
- Assad said expected to last no more than year
- Syria launches crackdown on islamic militants
- U.S. urges lebanese not to ask for syrian withdrawal
- U.S., Syrian contacts to begin next month
- Assad, Barak plan to meet in Geneva
- Israel doesn't expect framework accord next month
- Israel, Syria to discuss early warning stations
- Syria rejects Barak proposal on accord
- Israeli spiritual leader wants to visit Syria
- Iraq, Syria plan to renew diplomatic relations
Assad Said Expected to Last No More Than Year
The health of Syrian President Hafez Assad is said to be increasingly
deteriorating and he is not expected to function for more than another year,
sources close to the regime said.
The sources, who have excellent contacts with leading members of the
Syrian government, said Assad is suffering from a range of diseases that has
increasingly limited his ability to function. This includes heart ailment
As a result, the 69-year-old president works no more than two hours a
day. Often, the sources said, Assad does not do any work and decisions and
discussions are delayed.
The sources said Assad's energies are directed toward ensuring that his
son, Bashar, becomes the next president of Syria. It is this goal, they
said, that drives him on. But the sources said the senior Assad continues to
have difficulties in completing the process.
Bashar has not been approved for a leadership post in the Baath Party,
the sources said, and family infighting has prolonged delays. The sources
said should the president die soon, a fight over succession will erupt.
The 34-year-old Bashar has been delayed in plans to travel to Teheran to
discuss the Israeli-Syrian peace talks, the sources said. They said Bashar
was to have explained to leaders in Teheran the reason for the negotiations
and the prospect of a peace treaty.
One source of delay, the sources said, is that the president took time
to draft a letter for Iranian leaders regarding the talks between Foreign
Minister Farouk A-Shaara and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The letter
is to be delivered before the next round of negotiations on Jan. 3.
A-Shaara on Dec. 30 left for Cairo to brief Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak on the forthcoming talks. Arab diplomatic sources said Egypt will
press Syria to coordinate with the Palestinians.
Sources said Iran is angry over the resumption of Israeli-Syrian talks
and has quietly threatened to sever relations with Damascus if a peace
treaty is signed. The sources said Iran has stressed to Syria that it does
not object to an agreement for the return of the Golan Heights but opposes
normalization of ties with Israel.
Iran has also warned Syria not to harm the Lebanese Shi'ite Hizbullah
militia. The sources said Iran has stressed that Hizbullah has a huge
constituency and is the leader of the resistance against Israel's troop
presence in south Lebanon.
Syria Launches Crackdown on Islamic Militants
Syria has launched a crackdown on Islamic militants in the wake of its
criticism of President Hafez Assad's decision to resume negotiations with
Diplomatic sources said Syrian authorities have arrested scores of
members of the Moslem Brotherhood over the last week. They said the
Brotherhood issued a leaflet that criticized the talks meant to lead to a
The Brotherhood called the prospect of a peace treaty a "capitulation a
sell-out of Arab and Muslim rights in Palestine."
"It must be remembered that the Palestinian question with all its histor
ical, geographic, political, and human dimensions, is the essence of the
conflict in the Middle East," the communique, faxed to news agencies, said.
"Our concern for the Golan shouldn't make us oblivious of the fact that
Palestine is the center of the Arab Israeli conflict. Our rights as Muslims
and Arabs in Palestine are sacred and inalienable which no body can
The statement was faxed by Syrian Islamic representatives based in
London in what was regarded as the first unauthorized criticism of
Syrian-Israeli negotiations. Earlier, the head of the Syrian Writers
Association criticized the resumption of talks in what was regarded as a
move authorized by Assad.
The Brotherhood said any agreement concluded between Syria and Israel
would be "illegitimate since it would go against the collective will of the
The communique said the Golan Heights was "no more than a step towards
the liberation of Palestine."
The leaflet came in the wake of the killing of a leading Brotherhood
member. Sheik Mohammed Amin Yakan, 62, was assassinated on Dec. 16 as he was
driven to Tarhin village near Aleppo. Syrian sources said the sheik was
killed by gunmen who worked for a family that sought to release land
allocated for construction of a government center.
The Brotherhood placed doubts on Syrian claims that Yakan was killed in
a criminal dispute. Yakan was involved in a mediation effort between Syria
and the Brotherhood in 1997.
U.S. Urges Lebanese Not to Ask for Syrian Withdrawal
The United States is said to have appealed to prominent Lebanese
politicians and opinion-makers to allow Syrian troops to remain in Lebanon.
Lebanese sources said U.S. diplomats have urged the Lebanese not to urge
a Syrian withdrawal from their country after Israel pulls its troops out
from the south. The sources said a similar message was voiced by U.S.
ambassador to Lebanon, David Satterfield.
"Several Christian personalities have received clear messages from U.S.
diplomats 'warning' them not to ask for the withdrawal of the Syrian army
from Lebanon after the withdrawal of the Israeli army from south Lebanon,"
the Beirut-based Al Mustaqbal daily reported on Dec. 22. "U.S. ambassador
David Satterfield diplomatically 'warned' these personalities not to count
on an Israeli request for a Syrian withdrawal."
Syrian President Hafez Assad phoned Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and
discussed the next round of Syrian negotiations with Israel on Jan. 3. The
telephone call came amid Lebanese concerns that Beirut would end up with the
short end of the stick in any negotiations with Israel.
Arab diplomatic sources said the United States has quietly assured Syria
that it would not press for a withdrawal of its 35,000 troops from Lebanon
after an Israeli pullback. The sources said the Clinton administration and
Israel have concluded that Syrian troops are required to maintain stability
in both Damascus and Beirut.
About one million Syrians work in Lebanon, a work force that the sources
said maintains the Syrian economy. All Lebanese government contracts must
ensure Syrian participation, the sources said.
The sources said that U.S. diplomats believe that the Muslims and
Shi'ites in Lebanon -- who make up the majority -- will not resist continued
Syrian occupation of their country. The Christians, however, might voice
protest and urge the U.S. Congress to link Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon to
any future U.S. aid.
U.S., Syrian Contacts to Begin Next Month
Efforts to improve relations between Syria and the United States are
expected to begin next month, Arab diplomatic sources said.
The sources said the effort will focus on ways to remove Syria from the
State Department list of terrorist nations. The status prevents Syria from
obtaining most types of civilian and all military aid.
The Clinton administration, the sources said, would seek to change the
image of Syria in the eyes of Congress and U.S. public opinion. The efforts,
the diplomatic sources said, would begin during the next round of talks,
scheduled in Virginia on Jan. 3. They said U.S. and Syrian officials, headed
by Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shaara, would hold talks between negotiations
The negotiations would begin with another public ceremony, the sources
said. This time, they said, U.S. officials will press A-Shaara to shake
hands with Prime Minister Ehud Barak in front of television cameras.
After the negotiations, the sources said, the first of three U.S.
congressional delegations would arrive in Syria. The delegations would
explore the prospect of approving any White House proposal for economic aid
to Damascus after an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty.
Senior U.S. officials have stressed that Damascus will require billions
of dollars in Western aid after a peace treaty. But they envision a U.S.
effort to focus on obtaining Arab and European aid rather than having
Washington shoulder the commitment alone.
On Dec. 29, EU envoy Miguel Moratinos told Syrian leaders in Damascus
that Brussels would be active in Middle East peace negotiations. He said the
EU would also offer help to achieve a peace treaty and ensure its
Assad, Barak Plan to Meet in Geneva
The United States is trying to arrange a meeting between Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian President Hafez Assad at the end of January.
Arab diplomatic sources and newspapers said U.S. President Clinton has
sent messages to Assad and Barak and has obtained what they termed a
promising response from Assad. Barak has often expressed his wish to meet
The U.S. plan, the sources said, is for Clinton to meet the two Middle
East leaders in Geneva in mid- or late-January after the next round of
Israeli-Syrian negotiations scheduled on Jan. 3 in Virginia. The sources
said Assad has linked any meeting with Assad to the success of the talks.
On Dec. 31, the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi daily reported that Assad
has agreed in principle to meet Barak if progress is reported in the
forthcoming negotiations in Virginia.
The sources said Syria will demand an Israeli commitment for a
withdrawal from the entire Golan Heights. Damascus has rejected an Israeli
proposal for a "core agreement" that would contain a vague formula for
Israeli withdrawal. The sources said Syria is insisting that the first issue
on the agenda is an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Israeli sources acknowledged that Assad has been approached by the
United States and the European Union regarding a meeting with Barak. Assad
has told foreign guests that such a meeting could take place when an
agreement is reached between Israel and Syria.
The negotiations will be led by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shaara
and Israel's Barak. On Dec. 30, A-Shaara held talks with Egyptian leaders on
Israeli-Syrian peace talks as well as coordination with the Palestinians.
The foreign minister relayed a message from Assad to Mubarak.
"[Barak's] seriousness must be put to the test so we can be assured that
the Israelis desire peace as we do," A-Shaara said after talks with Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak. "In the new round, we will put Barak's seriousness
to the test, because he showed seriousness in the first round. This
seriousness must be put to the test so we can be assured that the Israelis
desire peace as we do. The settlements are illegal, whether they are built
on the Golan, in the West Bank or any other area of the occupied Arab
Meanwhile, Assad's son might be invited by Clinton, Arab diplomatic
Israel Doesn't Expect Framework Accord Next Month
Israel has reduced expectations stemming from next week's negotiations
Israeli officials said they do not expect both countries to agree on a
"core agreement" that would guide negotiations toward a peace settlement.
They cited Syrian opposition to such an accord.
The talks will begin on Jan. 3 in a secluded site in Virginia and
continue for at least 12 days, the officials said. They said the
negotiations will continue through the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, when
Arab diplomacy comes to a halt.
The officials said Israel will be pressed to issue a commitment for
withdrawal from the entire Golan Heights to the June 4, 1967 border. They
said Israel would seek to delay such a commitment.
For its part, Israel will demand Syrian goodwill gestures. The gestures,
the officials said, do not include a cessation of violence in south Lebanon,
which has little chance of being obtained in formal negotiations.
Instead, the officials said, Israel will ask for the return of the
remains of executed Israeli spy Eli Cohen and information on the whereabouts
of Israeli soldiers missing in Lebanon.
Israel, Syria to Discuss Early Warning Stations
In negotiations next month, Israel and Syria have agreed to discuss
three demilitarized zones, early-warning stations and the deployment of U.S.
troops as part of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
The establishment of early-warning stations is slated to be part of a
draft of a declaration of principles to be negotiated between the two
countries in the next round of talks, scheduled for Jan. 3 in Virginia. The
draft will include all the elements of a peace treaty, including Golan
withdrawal, normalization, counterterrorism and security arrangements.
The Jordanian daily Al Aswaq said the document was initiated by European
Union envoy Miguel Moratinos. The draft was then modified by U.S. Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright and assistant secretary Martin Indyk to become a
basis for resuming the negotiations.
"Early warning stations should be erected to prevent surprise attacks,"
the newspaper quoted the elements of the draft document as saying. "The two
sides discuss the idea of having United Nations forces with an American
nucleus to supervise the agreement and ensure its implementation."
Syrian newspapers have called on Israel to be "serious" in the
forthcoming round of talks. The call came as the ruling Baath Party has
launched meetings around the country to discuss the prospects of a peace
treaty with Israel.
The aim, Syrian sources, is to convene the first national convention of
the Baath Party since 1985. At that meeting, Syrian President Hafez Assad is
expected to push for his son Bashar to be given a leading role in the party
The draft, the Jordanian newspaper said on Dec. 21, does not
specifically call for full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Instead, it
calls for Israel to withdraw from the area "according to the Madrid
conference's terms of references as an implementation of United Nations
resolutions 242 and 338.
Those two UN resolutions as well as UN resolution 425 should be
implemented regarding the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. No timetable is
The draft stipulated that security arrangements are to be made on the
grounds of reciprocated equality with the objective of strengthening
stability and ensuring security interests for the two sides. "The security
arrangements are in compliance with the principles of sovereignty and
regional unity," the newspaper said, "but under the condition that the
Lebanese dimension will be taken into account. These security arrangements
are also to take into consideration the nature of the region, the two sides'
positions in the military and political arenas, and the consequences of
redeployment on military capabilities."
Israel has demanded a demilitarization of the entire Golan as well as an
area that extends close to Damascus. Syria has six divisions from the area
of Golan to Damascus, a distance of 60 kilometers.
In contrast, Syria has demanded that any arrangements be symmetrical and
not infringe on that country's sovereignty.
The draft document calls for three zones in an effort to minimize a
surprise military attack. The zone closest to the Israeli border would be
free of all weapons. The second zone would have restrictions on weapons and
troops. The third zone would have allow the deployment of unspecified
The draft is vague on the issue of water. Israel has refused to cede
rights to the Sea of Galilee, the northeastern portion of which is claimed
by Syria. The two countries are asked to deal with the issues in accordance
with international law "taking into account Syria's rights and Israel's
requirements of waters."
Regarding future relations between Israel and Syria, the draft calls
"peaceful relations between the two sides includes diplomatic, economic and
cultural relations with the objective of opening the way for promoting
peace. Practical measures will be taken to build confidence in the
political, economic and social areas, and the two sides will back and
participate in the framework of regional cooperation and the multilateral
The two countries are also being asked to pledge not to harbor groups
that threaten the other side.
Syria Rejects Barak Proposal on Accord
Syria has rejected an Israeli proposal to reach a core agreement during
the next round of negotiations, an Arab newspaper has reported.
The London-based Al Hayat daily on Dec. 27 quoted Syrian sources as
saying that the
proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for a framework accord that
would include all elements of a peace treaty between Israel and Syria would
be a substitute for the "substantive bases" of issues concluded by both
countries in previous negotiations.
The sources did not explain. But the reference appeared to be that of
Syrian insistence that Israel had agreed to a withdrawal from the entire
Barak has urged Syria and the United States to conclude a "core
agreement" with Damascus that would be more specific than a declaration of
principles and serve as a guide for a peace treaty. But the prime minister
has stressed that he wants to first discuss security arrangements and water
before he commits to any withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
Syrian newspapers, meanwhile, renewed their call for an Israeli
withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 lines. The call referred to the the line that
existed before the Six-Day Arab-Israeli war in which Israel captured the
Earlier, Israeli sources said Barak would propose a withdrawal to the
1923 line agreed by France and Britain. That line is farther east than that
of the 1967 boundary demanded by Syria.
Israeli Spiritual Leader Wants to Visit Syria
A leading Israeli rabbi and patron of the third largest party in the
country wants to visit Damascus and meet with Syrian officials before he
issues a ruling of whether to withdraw from the Golan Heights.
Diplomatic sources said contacts have been held through Arab and
European officials to arrange the visit of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to Damascus.
The rabbi is the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, with 17 seats in the
The sources said the rabbi's support for a Golan withdrawal has been
sought by the European Union. EU peace envoy Miguel Moratinos has met with
the rabbi and his aides in attempt to win support for a Golan Heights
withdrawal in any referendum held in Israel.
The London-based Al Hayat daily said Syrian leaders are considering
extending an invitation to the rabbi. The newspaper quoted sources in
Damascus as saying the the invitation could come from Syria's mufti, Sheik
Ahmed Kiftaro or from the the chairman of Syria's tiny Jewish community.
The newspaper said Knesset Abdul Wahab Darhoushe has relayed the rabbi's
desire to visit Syria to leaders in Damascus. The rabbi is regarded as
spiritual leader to Jews of North African descent, which make up the
majority of Jews in Israel.
So far, Damascus has refused to welcome any Israeli Jewish figure.
Several Arab parliamentarians have become regular visitors to Syria.
Iraq, Syria Plan to Renew Diplomatic Relations
After 19 years of tension, Iraq and Syria plan to resume diplomatic
Iraqi newspapers and officials said both countries have reached
agreement on the resumption of full ties. They said the first step would be
to open interest sections.
Syrian officials acknowledged that both countries are interested in
resuming ties but said little progress has been reported in bilateral
In 1980, Iraq severed ties with Syria after Damascus sided with Iran
during its war with Baghdad. A decade later, Syria joined the U.S.-led
coalition against Baghdad that drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
"An agreement has been recently reached to open two interest sections in
each others' country," Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahaf said.
So far, Algeria represents the interests of both Iraq and Syria.
Neither Sahaf nor other Iraqi officials would offer a timetable for the
resumption of full diplomatic relations. So far, the two countries have
quietly renewed trade. Since 1996, Syria sold $150 million of food and
medicine to Iraq and Syrian companies have opened branches in Baghdad.
In 1998, Sahaf visited Syria and met Syrian President Hafez Assad.
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A Daughter's Plea
by Sara Ben Shoshan,
whose mother was murdered with 3 other women who were slain at a bus stop in Jerusalem in March, 1991.
A few months ago, I opened the daily Yediot Aharonot Israeli newspaper and
I was stunned to read a headline article written by Nahum Barnea and Shimon
Shiffer, both of whom are known as credible journalists, in which they
wrote that in any permanent agreement with the Palestinian Authority,
killers with blood on their hands will be freed by Barak. Next to their
article were pictures of six Palestinian killers that the Palestinian
Authority demands their release.
One of the pictures that appears there is our killer, the killer of my
mother, Mustafa Abu Jallala.
At the moment that I saw that picture I relived the murder.
My mother, a small and simple woman stood at the bus stop waiting for a bus
that would take her home from another day of work and suddenly, a monstrous
man of six foot appeared out of nowhere flailing a long knife. He killed
her and all of our family. A full life was taken in one moment, the life
of a simple family was changed from one extreme to another and will never
be the same from what it was before the murder. Whenever I feel the pain of
the murder, and the sorrow for the loss of my mother, I imagine him, the
murderer. Getting off a bus with the other freed murderers, with great
satisfaction and with victory on his face, holding up the V sign with his
hand, saying, I'm victorious, I murdered, I was freed and now I can even do
it again and become a leader of my people.
And I ask you, I ask my people, and I ask our Prime Minister, how are we
supposed to feel when the value of justice slips from our hands? How are we
as a family to feel when our minimal human rights were taken by a murderer,
who instead of rotting in prison to his last day, might in fact be freed
very soon. We hear every day about human rights that we all agree are a
very important principle in a just society, but I ask where exactly is the
right of a murder victim, of the victim of a person who was precious to us
who is now buried deep in the ground. Where are the victim's rights when
the murderer is allowed to go free?
Where are the rights of us as a bereaved family, whose life after the
murder has anyway become difficult? Where are our rights when the murderer
of our mother is freed?
Ever since the article in Yediot appeared, we have witnessed 150 prisoners
freed, amongst them people with the blood of the wounded on their hands,
(as if they did not intend to kill) and also amongst them, those who
murdered Arabs who cooperated with Israel. (As if there is any difference
between human blood).
Last week we were witness to the freeing of another 26 prisoners, amongst
them was the murderer of a taxi driver, Yehezkel Mizrachi. My heart and
the heart of all my family go out to his grieving family. We are slowly
coming to the realization that this is about to happen to us, and this must
I feel a moral obligation in memory of my mother to carry out this fight,
My mother did not have the opportunity to defend herself . As I think of my
mother, I cannot sit idly and not fight this basic injustice.
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