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World - Middle East

Syria tells Palestinian groups to stop fighting Israel

graphic


 ALSO:
Clinton, Barak to meet every four months

 

July 19, 1999
Web posted at: 8:32 p.m. EDT (0032 GMT)

From staff and wire reports.

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Announcing that "there will be peace with Israel under Ehud Barak," Syrian officials told three radical Palestinian groups based in Damascus that they must abandon their armed struggle against the Jewish state.

Palestinian sources told CNN on Monday that aides close to Syrian President Hafez Assad met recently in Damascus with representatives of the A-Saeka, PFLP-General Command and the Abu-Moussa groups.

The radical Palestinians, who do not support Yasser Arafat's peace process with Israel, were told that "there is a real chance for peace, and Syria does not mean to miss that opportunity," according to the sources.

Syria has sent positive signals to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak since his May 17 election and has expressed a willingness to match Israeli steps toward peace.

The Syrian-aligned groups were also reportedly told that they, and their organizations based in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, need to prepare themselves for "this peace era" and to adapt to the new circumstances by transforming themselves into political parties.

A Syrian official also told Reuters that the warning was intended to go out to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon as well.

However, Hezbollah dismissed the report as "talk that does not merit response."

Clinton, Barak welcome news

Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton, speaking after two hours of talks in Washington, welcomed news of the reported meeting.

"If there was such a meeting and the Syrians really asked the terror organizations to reduce their level of activity -- if that is true -- it is of course good news for all of us," Barak said.

Over the weekend, Barak was quoted as saying he was prepared for a "painful compromise" with Syria over the Golan Heights, a strip of land Israel seized from Syria 32 years ago.

Clinton echoed Barak's sentiments:

"We too would like to have more normal relations with Syria, and we would like Syria to be reconciled to all its neighbors in the region," Clinton said.

"Anything that Syria does to disassociate itself from terrorism is a positive step."

Clinton said he would contact Syrian President Hafez Assad following his talks with the Israeli leader and urge Assad to seize the opportunity brought about by Barak's election.

Correspondents Jerrold Kessel and Reuters contributed to this report.



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July 19, 1999
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RELATED SITES:
National Information Center - Syria
Syrian Arab News Agency
Israel's Institutions of Government
PASSIA: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs
Palestinian National Authority
The Middle East Network Information Center
Office of the Israeli Prime Minister
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