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World - Middle East

Hopes for peace with Israel fade in Damascus

Market
Many Syrians feel the window of opportunity for achieving peace that opened after Barak's election is closing quickly  

August 13, 1999
Web posted at: 8:20 p.m. EDT (0020 GMT)

From Correspondent Rula Amin

DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) -- For several weeks following the election victory of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Syrians were optimistic about chances of reaching a peace deal with Israel.

Syrian President Hafez Assad broke from his traditionally cool assessment of Israeli leaders to call Barak "a brave man." And the Syrian government promised that each step Barak made toward peace with Syria would be met by a reciprocal step by Damascus.

But now, three months after Barak's election, Syrians are increasingly skeptical.

"As our president said, we want peace, a just and honorable peace. But Mr. Barak has only been giving us promises, nothing concrete," said one man in the Syrian capital.

Barak aides dismiss return of Golan Heights

Syria is demanding Israel return the entire Golan Heights, a swath of territory along the Syrian-Israeli border that Israel seized in 1967. Syrian officials claim assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin promised in 1996 to give back the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Damascus.

But publicly, Barak is making no such promise, and his aides have been dismissing the idea.

"The signals we received from Barak are vague. We had hope that he would respect what Rabin promised, but so far, he has nothing for us," said Muhamad Khair al Wadi, a newspaper editor.

Syrian newspaper
An editorial in the Syrian newspaper Teshreen reads, "all the positive signs are evaporating, and only negative ones are in the horizon"  

Al Wadi's paper, Teshreen, said in an editorial that all positive signs for peace are evaporating, and that only negative signs appear to be on the horizon. And it urged Arabs to stop running after illusions.

The delay of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the region has only further disappointed Syrians. Albright agreed to an Israeli appeal to postpone her Middle East trip from August to September, to allow Israelis and Palestinians time to iron out disagreements in the implementation of a stalled land-for-security peace deal.

Despite Albright's delay, Syrian officials continue to insist on an active U.S. role in the peace process. They say Washington must help ensure that whatever guarantees Israel signs, it will implement.

And though Barak has said a face-to-face meeting between Syrian President Hafez Assad and himself could lead to an end of the long-standing enmity between their countries, most Syrians say there will be no handshake between Barak and Assad until the Syrian president has first secured his kind of peace deal.



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Syrian expert: Assad ready to offer Israel peace for land
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RELATED SITES:
Israel's Institutions of Government
Office of the Israeli Prime Minister
The Middle East Network Information Center
U.S. State Department
Teshreen Online
Golan Heights - ArabNet: Syria
Syria-Net
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