Posted by Joshua on Thursday, July 10th, 2008
“This is an invaluable opportunity for Assad to improve his relations with the West, particularly France,” said a European diplomat in Damascus.
He added that “Sarkozy too will benefit from the visit”, explaining that the French president is keen to play a more important role in the Middle East.
A Syrian analyst on international relations commented, “France wants to play a role in the Middle East, but this role can be played only through Syria, which is crucial to the Middle East.”
Syria: US Has Vital Role In Middle East But Needs Guidance
2008-07-09 (New York)
DAMASCUS (AFP)–Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, speaking ahead of a weekend visit to France, said a U.S. role in the Middle East was vital for peace but Washington doesn't understand the region and needs guidance. The U.S. "is a world superpower which maintains privileged relations with Israel. No European country can replace the U.S. The European role is complementary," Assad told French journalists. "The problem is that the United States does not understand what is going on in the region. Because of the positive relations which France has with this country, it may be able to help the U.S. understand the region better."….
The U.S. Department of the Treasury today added Syriatel, Syria's largest mobile phone operator, and Ramak, a chain of Syrian duty free stores, to its Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List. All property and interests in property of these entities are blocked as a result of the direct or indirect ownership interest of at least 50 percent by Rami Makhluf in each entity.
"Rami Makhluf uses his access to high-level Syrian Government insiders to enrich himself at the expense of the Syrian people," said Adam J. Szubin, Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). "We will continue to target Makhluf and his commercial empire as well as others who follow in his footsteps."
Makhluf was designated on February 21, 2008 pursuant to Executive Order 13460, which targets individuals and entities determined to have contributed to, or to have benefited from, the public corruption of senior officials of the Syrian regime.
Makhluf, a maternal cousin of Syrian president Bashar al-Asad, has exploited his relationships with Syrian regime members to amass his commercial empire. Makhluf has manipulated the Syrian judicial system and has used Syrian intelligence officials to intimidate business rivals.
Pursuant to E.O. 13460, any assets in Syriatel's or Ramak's names held in the United States or within the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked, and U.S. persons, therefore, are prohibited from engaging in business or transactions with Syriatel or Ramak.
l’Orient-le jour's Scarlett HADDAD gets a long interview with Assad.
Q : Comptez-vous envoyer Rustom Ghazalé comme ambassadeur au Liban ?
R : (Bachar Assad éclate d’un grand rire). Nous n’avons rien annoncé de tel.
Q : Les affrontements entre alaouites et sunnites au Liban-Nord constituent-ils une menace pour la sécurité de la Syrie, et sous ce prétexte, celle-ci pourrait-elle revenir militairement au Liban ?
R : Nous n’avons aucune intention de revenir militairement au Liban. Pour entreprendre une action militaire dans un pays, il faut qu’il y ait eu une agression. Or cela ne se produira pas entre le Liban et la Syrie. Il est certain qu’il y a au Liban des politiciens à la vision limitée qui croient que tout problème au Liban s’étendra à la Syrie. À long terme, tout trouble au Liban, qu’il s’agisse d’un conflit entre alaouites et sunnites, entre sunnites et chiites ou entre musulmans et chrétiens, a des répercussions en Syrie. Mais ce qui se passe actuellement au Liban-Nord ne s’inscrit pas dans ce cas de figure. Des extrémistes reçoivent un financement de certains politiciens libanais pour donner l’impression de l’existence d’un conflit confessionnel au Liban. Mais une grande partie des sunnites du Liban-Nord ne veulent pas de ces problèmes. Nous sommes, en tout cas, conscients de la situation. Mais nous n’avons pas l’intention de prendre la moindre décision à ce sujet. Ces extrémistes nuisent au Liban, non à la Syrie…..
"There Are No Negotiations Between Syria and Israel": Interview with Mohsen Bilal, Syrian Minister of Information.
M. Bilal: There are no negotiations. This is an exploratory phase, looking at the possibility of renewing talks to create a platform for eventual negotiations. There is an indirect exchange of messages through the Turkish mediator — whom we trust to sound out the Israeli government — because Israel changes its methods frequently, and we are accustomed to the non-fulfilment of its promises. …..
Analyze this: Are (pipe) dreams of peace with Syria receding with the Kinneret's shoreline?
Jul. 9, 2008
Calev Ben-David , THE JERUSALEM POST
"Without additional water resources peace will be very difficult to achieve with Syria and maintain with our other neighbors." ……..
The Israeli defense minister also told Mr. Kouchner that Israel expected him to help to stop the arms transfer from Syria to Hezbollah, and that UNIFIL, which is operating in Lebanon, needs to increase its opposition to Hezbollah's buildup and fortifications.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni,warned during a tour of Israel's northern border with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini that, "An opportunity has now arisen to disarm Hezbollah, and we must not miss it. If we don't do it now, it will be much more difficult later."
Ms. Livni and the Italian foreign minister agreed steps should be taken to fully implement U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. The Italian foreign minister said he hoped that now, after a new government has been formed in Lebanon, it would be possible to speak with it.
"The implementation of Resolution 1701 is the only solution and the best option for resolving the situation in this region," Ms. Livni said.
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu also met with the Italian foreign minister. In their conversation, Mr. Netanyahu protested that the Italian automobile company Fiat recently announced its intention to open a plant in Iran.
"Italy should act to prevent Fiat from building another plant in Iran," said Mr. Netanyahu.
"…If Jordan, Syria and Lebanon can be faulted for unfriendly treatment of refugees at border crossings and lukewarm assistance once they have entered, they should, nonetheless, be credited for having agreed to receive so many Iraqis in the first place and allowing them to stay at great cost to their own societies. By contrast, it is difficult to give the Iraqi government any credit at all. Flush with oil money, it has been conspicuously ungenerous toward its citizens stranded abroad. No doubt there are senior former regime figures among the refugees, but this does not excuse callous neglect of overwhelmingly non-political people who loyally served Iraq rather than any particular regime….The approach of the international community, especially states that have participated in Iraq’s occupation, has been equally troubling…. the U.S., whose policies unleashed the chaos that spawned the outflow, has clearly failed in its own responsibilities: downplaying the issue, providing far less assistance to host countries than needed and admitting to its own shores merely a trickle of refugees and only after unprecedented security checks to which asylum seekers from other nations are not subjected…"
Egypt has begun pumping natural gas to Syria by a pipeline running through Jordan as part of a giant project to export Egyptian gas to the Middle East and eventually to Europe, Syria's oil minister said Thursday.
Sufian Allaw said the new pipeline would provide Syria with 88.3 million cubic feet (2.5 million cubic meters) of gas daily, increasing gradually to 212 million cubic feet (6 million cubic meters) per day over the next nine years. He said the pipeline is vital to Syria, especially its electricity sector as 40 percent of power generating stations in Syria are run by burning gas.
He said it would relieve current gas shortages in Syria.
Under the Arab Gas Pipeline Project signed in 2001, Egypt is to supply Jordan, Lebanon and Syria with natural gas for 30 years. The project costs more than US$1.2 billion, with a total pipeline length of 750 miles (1,200 kilometers), about half of it inside Syrian territories.
The first phase linking Egypt with the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba was finished in 2003, with the pipeline passing under the Gulf of Aqaba to avoid crossing Israeli territory. Two years later, the second-phase extension of the pipeline reached the Jordanian town of Rihab north of the capital Amman.
Egypt has been exporting nearly 99 billion cubic feet (2.8 billion cubic meters) of gas a year to Jordan under a 15-year deal.
The third phase brought the pipeline to Syria's Deir Ali power station south of Damascus, Allaw said, according to Syria's official news agency SANA.
An extension to Lebanon is supposed to open later this year, followed by an extension to Turkey's border, where the pipeline will be connected to the planned Nabucco Pipeline for the delivery of gas to Europe, under a deal reached in 2006 between Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Romania.
Syria's oil production has declined in recent years and Damascus is trying to compensate by relying more heavily on natural gas. The country's daily gas consumption is estimated at 477 million cubic feet (13.5 million cubic meters) per day. Its daily production of natural gas was estimated at 494 million cubic feet (14 million cubic meters) in 2007.
Egypt has potential natural gas reserves of 62 trillion cubic feet (1.7 trillion cubic meters), the 18th largest in the world, and is aiming to become one of the world's top 10 natural gas exporters in the next four years.
Egypt began providing Israel with natural gas in February under a deal by which it will sell Israel 60 billion cubit feet (1.7 billion cubic meters) a year for a period of 15 years. The deal raised controversy at home, with some in the Egyptian opposition saying the gas was being sold at below-market rates.
Elsy Melkonian gets the scoop on Syrian-Belatusian relations! for the new "What's On," magazine. That's Belarus.
The first in a series of slick green and shiny public buses rolled out into the streets last month. Niveen Wahish let them take her for a ride. Read more…
How many new buses are there?
Right now about 350. We have a contract with China to supply us with a total of 650 buses. The buses are for use in all cities of Syria. Currently they are operating in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Lattakia.
Are the new buses environmentally friendly?
Well not so much as they do run on diesel (mazote). However, they are certainly better than the old ones. We are planning on ordering buses in the future that are more suitable for the environment but the need for new transport was really great and we had to provide the most suitable solution quickly.
Will they totally replace the old buses?
To meet the transport requirements in Damascus alone we need approximately 1200 buses. So right now we need to use the new and the old together.
Are the new buses meeting the transport need?
Yes, it seems people are very happy, but of course there are always improvements to be made. We have been doing a study of the buses and in approximately one month we will put out a tender for 1000 new buses. In this tender we will list some modifications and features that the new buses are lacking, for example: we want them lower to the ground, we want ramps for getting on and off for older people, people with babies or disabled passengers, and we want additional ticket machines in each bus.
Traffic is a continual problem here. Is there a solution?
Yes there are a number of things we can do to reduce the overcrowding on our streets. We are planning on making bus only lanes on the streets. Once we have acquired our target of 1600 buses we will redirect the ‘service’ buses into the countryside, leaving these new buses to run the public transport in the city. This will reduce the amount of vehicles inside the city, as well as easing the flow of traffic without the stop-start-stop because of the ‘service’ traffic. We hope that the addition of the bus lanes will encourage people to take the bus to work rather than driving.
What is the future of public transport in Syria?
The Ministry and the Governor of Damascus are focusing on the Metro project, to build an underground rail line to bring people into the city from the countryside. Once this project is finalized it will take approximately ten years to be completed…so we really need the bus system to work well!
CNN's New Beirut correspondent, Cal Perry has gotten special access in Syria and covers a number of stories. Here are a few. All can be found at the CNN site, here.
Exclusive look at Syrian army 2:48 updated Fri, July 4, 2008
Ruins of Palmira :52 updated Fri, July 4, 2008
Exclusive look inside Syria 3:16 updated Fri, July 4, 2008