Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Have Peace Talks between Israel and Syria Begun?

Middle East analysts are still trying to assess the reasons behind Syria's insistence on having Lahoud's term extended, and regional politicians are positioning themselves to either make the most of or deflect the impact of the resulting UN resolution.

Scott Wilson of The Washington Post reports that the British ambassador in Damascus believed that in the final jokeying for position in Lebanon between Washington and Damascus, it came down to a question of za`ama. Wilson writes: "Several Western diplomats here expressed dismay over the heavy-handed approach taken by Assad, who several weeks earlier had told a delegation of U.S. members of Congress that several other candidates would be acceptable to Syria. "It became a matter of arm-wrestling over who was calling the shots in Lebanon: Syria or the United States," said Peter Ford, the British ambassador here. "Once it became that issue, Syria couldn't back down, even if it wanted to."

Are peace talks getting started between Israel and Syria?
Gabriel Ben-Dor, director of the University of Haifa's National Security Studies Center, speculates that "despite the predominantly cosmetic nature of the Syrian troop redeployment in Lebanon, he did not rule out the possibility of a connection with the plethora of reports of a pending resumption of peace talks with Israel."

There have been persistent rumors that negotiations are going to be renewed, that the groundwork is being prepared very meticulously, or that talks might already have started surreptitiously," he said. "There could be a link between the Syrian moves and the possible renewal of serious contacts with Israel, although this is unlikely to happen until after the US elections. "If the administration of President Bush survives, it is conceivable there might be a turn to the Syrian track because the situation with the Palestinians is a mess and the Americans, to counter criticism over Iraq, would probably like to demonstrate they have not given up on trying to bring peace and stability to the Middle East," said Ben-Dor.

Farid Khazen, chairman of the political science department at the American University of Beirut, said the fact that this redeployment is occurring under U.N. scrutiny is more significant than its size. Although Syria has redeployed its forces in Lebanon several times in recent years, Khazen said that doing so under international pressure made Tuesday's pullback the most significant to date. "Of course, this should have happened back in 1992," Khazen said. "Even though there were partial deployments before, today they come under completely different circumstances. This is no longer a Lebanese issue or a Syrian issue, but an international issue."

Syria first sent troops to Lebanon in 1976 in an unsuccessful attempt to calm mounting sectarian violence, and at times had as many as 35,000 troops in the country. The 1989 Taif Agreement that ended Lebanon's civil war gave Syria two years to withdraw its troops from the time Lebanon incorporated the terms of the accord in its constitution, a deadline that lapsed in September 1992.

About 15,000 Syrian troops will remain in Lebanon. Mahmud Hammud, the Lebanese defense minister, said a full pullout would occur only after an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands. (AP, AFP)

Randa Takieddine of Al-Hayat has a thoughtful article on the consequences of Asad's Lebanon stumble. She writes that Syria has now signed the EU's WMD clause without any modifications and will be subject to continued Foreign Pressure now that it has united France and the US against it. She asks: "Will Syria continue in the same conduct of letting by the diplomatic opportunities which will ultimately subjugate Syria to further international pressure?"

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, while contacting the Arab leaders, found out that not a single Arab leader agreed with what Syria is doing in Lebanon, and not a single Arab leader agreed with what Syria ventured lately in Lebanon, especially concerning the amendment of the Lebanese constitution.

About 15,000 Syrian troops will remain in Lebanon, said Mahmud Hammud, the Lebanese defense minister. A full pullout would occur only after an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands, he added. Troops are to move out of the towns of Aramoun, Chouiefat, Damour, Doha and Khaldeh, south of Beirut, and Dhour El Choueir to the north. The troops' destination is thought to be the Bekaa, an area near Syria's border, where a majority of Syrian forces are deployed.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, said: "We remain deeply concerned about Syrian intervention in Lebanon and reiterate that, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1559, Syria withdraw all of its forces from Lebanon."

In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon cast doubt on the value of the Syrian pullback. "We don't at this point see a change in Syria's position," Sharon told Israel Radio. "Syria is under U.S. pressure these days because it is helping Iraqi terrorists. They have an interest in taking steps that will take off or weaken the pressure."

BBC news monitor writes that in Israel, a commentator in the leading daily Yediot Aharonot sees the Syrian move as a cynical ploy "aimed mainly at easing US pressure". " President Assad can allow himself to reduce the number of his soldiers and officers in order to con President Bush."

Writing in Lebanon's Al-Safir, Sami Kalib asks: "Is Syria's redeployment the beginning of a Syrian-US deal? What Washington is asking Syria entails much more than just the Lebanese problem," he believes.

Saudi Arabia's Al-Jazirah writes, "The redeployment should have coincided with an Israeli withdrawal from the Shabaa farms region. Syria is not occupying Lebanon!", reads the headline of an editorial, which feels that Israel should have matched the move.

Omar of "IRAQ THE MODEL" blog, writes (September 21, 2004) that 6 Syrian terrorists were arrested in Iraq just as they were preparing to set off a bomb.

Some good news!
A group of Iraqi citizens in Al Karkh/ Khidr Al Yas arrested 6 Syrian terrorists after placing a land mine at the gate of Bab Al Mu’a dam bridge from Al Karkh side. According to New Sabah newspaper, after a road side bomb exploded missing an American convoy that was patrolling in the area, a group of citizens who happened to be there noticed a bunch of young men who looked foreigners (turned out to be Syrians) that were gathering near the place and that looked suspicious. The citizens found their atittude very suspicious and they were not from the area, so they jumped on them and kicked them until some of them started to bleed and then turned them on to the American forces. Eyewitnesses said that the citizens were shouting “Terrorists. You are targeting our children and families. You are killing our youths” This incident that took place near Haifa street comes after many attacks that terrorist Arabs were accused of carrying against American forces and Iraqi police stations.

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