“Murder in Abou Kamal,” by Imad Moustapha

The following two articles are from Forward, a magazine published by Abdulsalam Haykal and edited by Sami Moubayed in Damascus.

Murder in Abou Kamal  
By Ambassador Imad Moustapha
Reprinted with permission of Sami Moubayed of Forward
November 14, 2008

The journalist from the Foreign Affairs monthly fidgeted in his seat as he sat in front of me. After all, he came to ask me the tough questions; it was I who was supposed to be in the hot seat. Our roles would abruptly switch, leaving him to ponder over a question even simpler than the one he posed. “Why are you not securing your border with Iraq?” he asked. 

“You think we can secure it?” I responded.


“If we can secure it, then you surely believe that it is a securable border?”

“Of course,” he said, still sounding resolute. 

“Does the border not have two sides? If one expects minimally resourced Syria to solely secure the border, surely the US with its massive resources and superior armed forces can single-handedly accomplish the task, and with far better results, right? Now if you agree with me on this, then I want you to explain to me the following: why wouldn’t he US use its superior military resources to secure these borders from the Iraqi side and end this story once and for all? How come the US allows these borders to be a gateway for insurgents who freely cross these borders to harm their service men and women, when it is bound by duty to protect them? Instead, the US leaves this task to the Syrian state while criticizing Syria for ‘not doing enough.’ I need an explanation for this before you start interviewing me.” The answer I got was a complete silence. 

This was a telling reflection of the complaisance and naiveté with which the American public and media continue to handle issues pertaining to American foreign policy.  When discussing the Syrian-Iraqi border, no one asks the American administration, “what have YOU done lately?” No one poses the “tough” questions. Issues that require diligent and firm questioning of policy are continually rendered unchallenged.  Bafflingly, the lessons from the lies leading to the Iraq War have yet to register with the American mass media.   

The bottom line is that the Syrian-Iraqi border was never a priority for US troops.  They understood the struggle came from within Iraq, from Iraqis fighting what they perceived an occupation of their land. This border, and the issue of foreign fighters have always been a mere distraction and diversion mechanism to provide explanations of violence when all else fails. The bloody massacre on October 26 that killed eight innocent Syrian civilians was yet another example. However, this will prove as one of the Americans’ more costly tactics. 

Syria never amassed its troops at the Iraqi border in heed to American demands or to protect their soldiers. Syria did so first and foremost based on our national interest. As American policies fueled terrorism across our region, Syria was stuck between the hot-bed of religious extremism in Northern Lebanon and the post-occupation presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq. With the contagious characteristic of insecurity and instability, achieving stability in our neighborhood was a matter of paramount national interest. For this reason, we exerted all our efforts to end the political stalemate in Lebanon, and worked closely with the Iraqis in an attempt to help stabilize Iraq.   

Second, we secured the border for the sake of the Iraqis, whom we consider our Arab brothers and sisters with a long history of common heritage and strong ties. We would not allow anyone seeking to wreak more mayhem and cause more bloodshed in Iraq to come through Syria.   

In another miscalculated, belligerent act, the US undermined all our efforts aimed at achieving reconciliation and stability in Iraq. We have tolerated and ignored the baseless, constant American criticism of our efforts on the border for five years, due to our conviction in the necessity of securing these borders for Syria’s sake, and for Iraq’s. However, while we became accustomed to the long list of US lies pertaining to the Syrian-Iraqi borders we never expected that the burning desire of this administration to influence the presidential elections, and scare the US electorate, will translate itself to a criminal terrorist attack against defenseless innocent civilians. The US administration has thought that by portraying Iraq as a place in which the fight against al-Qaeda and neighboring rogue states is still a critical national security mater that needs the firm hand of a certain candidate, it will help tilt the US public opinion in his favor. 

If the Bush administration has undergone this atrocity to create a side show for the elections, and to help sway voters, then they very well might end up losing both the elections and Syria’s goodwill to help secure the Syrian-Iraqi borders. 

Imad Moustapha is Syria’s Ambassador to the United States

Twenty orphans and widows
BY Yaacoub Qadduri

Ali, aged 22, woke up early on October 26, 2008. It was a long day for his big family in the Sukariyya village in the town of Abu Kamal, near the Syrian-Iraqi border. His family included, in addition to his father, a total of 12 borthers and sisters. The day ended leaving Ali with only 7. The rest were killed by a US air raid on Abu Kamal. On the day of the funeral-one day after the attack-Ali seemed a broken man, grieved by the loss of his father and brothers. He watched the coffins collectively passing by, with undescribable sorrow and pain in his eyes. On the second day, however, he seemed stronger, surrounded by family and friends, who all grieved for his loss. He still could not speak about what happened, however, and his uncle Utawi Abdullah, offered to speak to us instead.

On the day of the raid, Dawoud (50) woke up early to go to work with his sons Faisal (34), Ibrahim (24), Olayan (18) and Suleiman (16). Ibrahim had one child-with another on the way-while Faisal had eight, making Dawoud the proud grandfather of many children. All of them left home with Dawoud, in the company of a family neighbor named Ahmad Khalifeh (20) at 7 am, driving a small truck for their routine job as construction workers. That was the only profession any of them ever had.

At the construction site on the Euphrates River, there was much work to be done. Construction for the home they were building-with two rooms-had only began three days earlier. Four US choppers came in shortly after the family had finished work in the early evening, flying on low elevation over the Euphrates. They opened fire on the construction site, and two planes landed, killing the entire family. US soldiers disembarked and walked through the pile of dead bodies, shooting them at close range with guns, to make double-sure that everybody was dead. Utawi recalled no less than 10 bullets were found in each corpse, after the Americans left the scene.

When asked if any member of his family was a member of al-Qaeda, as the Americans implied, or outlaws, as the Iraqi government said, Utawi shook his head angrily: “All of them were illterate. The only one among them who had received any kind of schooling had not reached past 4th grade! They worked in construction and none of them had ever left Syria with the exception of Dawoud, who had tried working in Kuwait 10-years ago, with no luck. He returned to his job as a construction worker in Syria.” He further explained, “We are laborers; we know nothing of al-Qaeda. They house they were building was intended to be a small residence, not a military site to threaten the security of the United States!” A man listening to Utawi at the condolence service where we were interviewing him added, “If there was terrorism in our area it would have surfaced a long time ago. The Americans get frightened from any kind of construction activity in our district. Frightened people do stupid things!”

Dawoud left behind young children-orphans-and the widows of his sons, who all add up to 20. His eldest grandson-the son of Faisal-is only 12. He is blind and so is his sister. Ibrahim’s wife is preganent with a child who will never see his father or grandfather. Overnight the survivor Ali has become the oldest in the family; the bread provider for all the 20 women and children, thanks to the United States. 

News Summary follows

How US claims about Syria became media facts
By Sharif Nashashibi
The Guardian, 14 November 2008

In any conflict, warring parties strive to convince the public that justice is on their side. The most effective way of doing this is through the media. It is imperative that journalists cast a critical eye on information they receive to avoid becoming unwitting tools in the propaganda war. In particular, they should not report claims as facts.

There were several fundamental failings in the British press coverage of the recent US raid into Syria. For example, Richard White in the Sun and the Independent correspondent Patrick Cockburn both reported as fact that the raid killed Abu Ghadiya, an alleged al-Qaida figure who smuggled fighters into Iraq.

Similarly, the Times diplomatic correspondent Catherine Philp reported as fact that American commandos entered Syria and fought “a brief gun battle with Abu Ghadiyah and members of his cell”.

Such news justifies the raid to readers because the target was important enough to violate the sovereignty of another country. However, Abu Ghadiya’s death, and the fight against him, were uncorroborated US claims. The news was not identified by the reporters as coming from American sources…

West queries IAEA aid for Syria during atomic probe
By Mark Heinrich
Reuters, 14 November 2008

Western powers have questioned an International Atomic Energy Agency offer to help Syria look into building a nuclear power plant while it is under investigation for alleged covert atomic activity, diplomats said on Friday.

But they said that whether the United States and close allies act to bar the “technical cooperation” project at an IAEA governors meeting in two weeks — a rare and politically divisive step — will depend on the findings of the agency’s first investigative report on Syria due next week….

Turkish-Syrian relations: The Erdoğan legacy (This is an excellent historical overview)
Today’s Zaman, 14 November 2008
By Sami Moubayed

The rise to power of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan marks a new era in positive Turkish-Syrian relations. The new Syrian attitude towards Turkey represents a break from past: Syria considers Turkey a reliable partner for brokering a peace deal between Syria and Israel, and Turkey offers opportunities for political and economic cooperation for improving the welfare and security of two countries.

The Syrian administration considers Turkey’s partnership to be a key factor in its attempts to achieve integration into the international community, a solution of the problems with Israel, and the securing of territorial unity in Iraq.

…. Intensive diplomacy over the last six months has been aimed at getting the Americans to endorse the talks in Turkey. One method was to cuddle up to the Russians last August, at the height of the war in South Ossetia. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad went to Russia and made strong remarks in favor of the Russian war with Georgia, and more recently, sent a senior military delegation to Moscow to discuss military cooperation with the Russian Army. The aim was to tell the Americans, “Syria still has all its options open. It is in both America and Israel’s interest to invest in Syria’s readiness for peace at this stage, otherwise, if the wrong buttons continue to be pushed, the Syrians always have the Russian option on the table.” That message was badly received in Washington; rather than scaring the Americans into becoming proactive, it gave ammunition to the Bush Administration to further distance itself from the talks, claiming that the Syrians were not ready for peace.

Then came the Syrian effort at bringing the French to the negotiating table in Turkey. During his July 2008 visit to Paris, President Assad invited Nicolas Sarkozy to co-sponsor the talks with Israel. This September, Erdoğan met with Assad in Damascus, at a summit with Sheikh Hamad Bin Khailfa al-Thani and President Sarkozy. The Syrians and Israelis were willing to enter into direct talks, under both American and French sponsorship of the talks, along with Turkey….

Policy recommendations

The priorities of the Syrian government shifted after a terrorist bomb struck in the middle of Damascus on September 27, 2008, showing just how dangerous the situation is in neighboring north Lebanon and Iraq. All related parties should pay attention to the fact that the new priority on the Syrian agenda is internal security and combating trans-national terror networks operating in neighboring countries.

The Turkish government needs to invest in Syria’s desire for peace at this stage, which has arguably never been so strong since 2001, and which perhaps will not remain as strong …

The Syrians are uninterested in a rapprochement with the Bush White House, despite the latest meeting between Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They also need a US Administration that publicly and actively supports the indirect talks currently underway in Turkey, hoping that they can become direct talks after progress is achieved. Turkey should play a role in getting the new US administration more actively involved in Syrian-Israeli peace.

Both countries have a strong mutual interest in preventing the annexation of Kirkuk to Iraqi Kurdistan, because this would enflame the ambitions of Kurds in both Syria and Turkey. Turkey, Syria and Iraq should be persistent enough to support a strong central government in Baghdad, making current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maleki less reliant on his Kurdish allies in Parliament. The more he feels isolated within the Iraqi political system, the more he will lean on the Kurds and appease them through implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution, vis-à-vis the future of Kirkuk.

The Syrians believed Erdoğan, when he promised to work with them, “to extract milk, even from the male goat!” Sustainability of cooperation is what matters now in bilateral relations between Syria and Turkey. Investment in the Syrian market, along with continued support for Syria in the peace process, are what the Syrians are looking for to keep the honeymoon going between Damascus and Ankara.

Vladimir Putin ‘wanted to hang Georgian President Saakashvili by the balls’ (thanks to FLC)
By Charles Bremner
The London Times, 14 November 2008

With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia’s Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. “I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” Mr Putin declared.

Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. “Hang him?” — he asked. “Why not?” Mr Putin replied. “The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein.”

Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: “Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?” Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: “Ah — you have scored a point there…”

Archaeologists unearth 8th century church in Syria
AP, 13 November 2008

Archaeologists in central Syria have unearthed the remnants of an 8th century church, an antiquities official said Thursday. A Syrian-Polish archaeological team recently discovered the church in the ancient city of Palmyra, said Walid al-Assaad, the head of the Palmyra Antiquities and Museums Department. He did not say specifically when the church was discovered or the exact date the church was built.

He said the church is the fourth and largest discovered so far in Palmyra — an ancient trade center that is now an archaeological treasure trove.

The church’s base measures 51-by-30 yards, and archaeologists estimate its columns stood 20 feet tall and its wooden ceiling would have been about 50 feet high, al-Assaad said.

A small amphitheater also was found in the church’s courtyard where experts believe Christian rituals were practiced, al-Assaad said.

“In the northern and southern parts of the church there are two rooms that are believed to have been used for baptisms, religious ceremonies, prayers and other rituals,” he said.

Ancient Palmyra, located some 150 miles northeast of Damascus, was the center of an Arab servant state to the Roman empire and thrived on caravan trades across the desert to Mesopotamia and Persia.

Under the 3rd century Syrian Queen Zenobia, the city rebelled against Roman rule and briefly carved out an independent desert Arab kingdom before being reconquered and razed by the Romans.

Assad and Obama: a new beginning
By Elias Samo
The Daily Star, 14 November 2008

Like many countries, Syria is pleased with the passing of the Bush administration and the victory of the “globalist” Barack Obama. For Syria, which has been on the receiving end of President George W. Bush’s misconceived policies, the outcome of the elections was a blessing. For the past eight years – a dark period in Syrian-American relations – Washington used every conceivable means to break or bend the Syrian system, including economic embargo and political pressure. President Bashar Assad extended his hand in friendship to Washington, but President Bush chose to ignore the positive signs and increased the pressure and demands, actually dictates, on Damascus.

The problem was largely caused by Bush and the “old guard” around him who invoked their personal animosity toward Assad. This did not serve American interests. However, despite all the American threats, political pressure and economic embargo, the leadership in Damascus is confident and secure, surrounded by a sea of instability, thanks partly to Washington. To the east, the Americans are bogged down in a fragmented Iraq, to the west is a chaotic Lebanon and to the south the divided Palestinians and the contentious Israelis are deadlocked. Syria has a finger in each of these pies and Damascus can be either peacemaker or spoiler. Additionally, relations with Europe are improving: Damascus can barely keep up with the stream of official European visitors…

Israeli Bombs Are Source of Uranium at Shelled Site, Syria Says
By Massoud A. Derhally
Bloomberg, 14 November 2008

Israeli missiles are the source of traces of uranium that diplomats at the International Atomic Energy Agency say were found at a suspected nuclear site in Syria, according to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.

“The basis of American complaint and allegations, presented to the IAEA seven months after the Israeli raid, is that a reactor was under construction, not operating, so where did the uranium particles come from?” al-Moallem said late yesterday, according to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. “Why has nobody asked about the content and type of Israeli shells used in destroying this building, in light of the U.S. and Israel’s use of uranium in their shells?”

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Sept. 22 that United Nations inspectors, on a visit in June, hadn’t found any traces of nuclear material at the site in al-Kibar that was bombed by Israel in September 2007. U.S. intelligence officials, who suspected Syria of having a covert nuclear program in the 1990s, said they were certain the government in Damascus was building a secret facility with North Korean help in early 2007, according to Congressional testimony in April.

The IAEA will present findings on its investigation into the Syrian site to the UN agency’s 35-member board of directors before their next meeting on Nov. 27, ElBaradei said in Prague this week.

“I regret very much the fact that we were not allowed to investigate the issue before the facility was destroyed,” ElBaradei said Nov. 11 in a Prague press briefing. “The job has become much more complicated for us.”

Syria, which is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has denied the U.S. allegations. Israel’s government has declined to comment on the issue.

Al-Moallem said “leaks of information by some Western diplomats is a clear indication that the goal is to put pressure on Syria, particularly as the campaign came before ElBaradei reports to the board of governors. This means that the subject is not technical but political.”

Miliband lauds Syrian-Lebanese ties, but March 14 not so sure
The Daily Star, 14 November 2008

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is expected to visit Lebanon next week, praised Damascus on Thursday for having opened diplomatic relations with Lebanon. “I think that in a significant way there has been important change in the approach of the Syrian government, notably the historic decision to exchange ambassadors with Lebanon,” Miliband told a news conference on Thursday.

Syrian President Bashar Assad issued a decree last month to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon for the first time since the two states won independence from France in the 1940s.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet will convene on Saturday at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, with 32 items on its agenda.The Cabinet’s secretariat general received a request from Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud to discuss the outcome of his talks in Damascus earlier this week…

Comments (82)

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51. Saghir said:

“He will say, if I go, everybody goes.”

This is why it is called deterrence. Isn’t that the logic of Dimona?

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November 15th, 2008, 10:44 pm


52. norman said:

Well said Jad,

That is my feeling too .

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November 15th, 2008, 10:50 pm


53. AIG said:

You should have the courage to embrace freedom of speech.

Of course, but it is deterrence for the Asad regime and not for Syria. If you want to see Asad and his son and grandson remain in power, you should support a Syrian bomb. If you support democratic reforms in Syria, then you should be against a bomb.

The bomb will not stop the sanctions, only make them worse. Is that to the advantage of the average Syrian? The bomb will also not get the Golan back. A nuclear bomb in Syria is good for only one thing, perpetuating the autocratic regime and that is why Asad wants it. Israel has to try its best to make sure he doesn’t get it because he cannot be trusted not to give the technology to terrorists.

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November 15th, 2008, 10:53 pm


54. jad said:

Saghir, how dare you ask this question; (Isn’t that the logic of Dimona?)

Israel is a Democratic peace loving country unlike the Dictatorship evil Syria; Israeli like AIG would never think of that, beside Dimona is juts a textile factory.

I defiantly have more courage than just insulting others as you do in every comment you write. Beside your comments doesn’t have anything good or new to consider unless repeating yourself is something to be proud of!

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November 15th, 2008, 10:55 pm


55. Saghir said:

Whether Asad and his son and grandson remain in power or not is not directly correlated with Syria acquiring nuclear technology. The Asad family has been in power 38 years without nuclear power. They can stay there for another 38 years with or without it.

Musharraf lost power in Pakistan even though he had the key to his country’s nuclear weapon, no?

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November 15th, 2008, 11:11 pm


56. norman said:


In 1973 war , Syria did not attack any Israeli city , so that should put your mind at ease that Syria is not trying to throw the Jews in the sea , She is only trying to get the Arab rights back, So Israel should know that sooner or later It either could give these rights on it’s own and with conditions that it sees necessary to it’s survival or these rights will be taken by force no matter how long it will take.then it will have nothing to bargain with.

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November 15th, 2008, 11:13 pm


57. AIG said:

Every comment you write is an insult to Israel and Israelis but you are just not able to see it. Every comment you and Norman write is just another attempt at justifying why Syria is not responsible whatsoever for losing the Golan. Your way of thinking will get you nowhere.

According to Norman and you:
Israelis are arrogant. Syrians are saints.
Syria is allowed to use force. Israel isn’t.
Israel is held to the highest standard in the world in human rights. Syria is allowed to be one of the most oppressive countries in the world and complain about how others are lacking in human rights.
Israelis are racist. Syrians are the most tolerant people in the world.

And the list goes on.

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November 15th, 2008, 11:15 pm


58. jad said:

Now you are talking BS, and I’m not in the mood to consider replying to your BS. BUZZ OFF

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November 15th, 2008, 11:19 pm


59. norman said:


You forgot something,

We thnk that Shai and Rumyal are angels while AIG and AP are devils .

you might say that Shai and Rumyal are Syrians too,

We will take them any time.they are better off than being associated with the likes of you.

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November 15th, 2008, 11:24 pm


60. AIG said:

What kind of argument is that? It attacked and was stopped on the Golan. There were no cities on the Golan at that time so how could it attack any city?

And what about 67? What would have happened if Israel lost? Why are you evading the question?

And let me answer your arrogant statement in an arrogant way just so you will see how arrogant you are: Syria should understand that if it does not concede the Golan sooner or later to Israel and if it continues to pursue war and terrorism, Syria will be completely destroyed. And it will happen sooner or later. And the more Israelis read stuff like you and Jad write, the more they support this statement.

If you use force to threaten me, I have every right to threaten you. You want to use force? Don’t complain about the results. Got it? If you want to talk peace, then stop threatning force.

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November 15th, 2008, 11:25 pm


61. AIG said:


The nuclear bomb is direcly related to stopping regime change by force, from whithin and from without. There is just no other use for it. It cannot stop sanctions and it cannot get the Golan back, so what is it good for?

The Pakistan case is one of Musharaf willingly letting go of power in exchange for money and immunity. It was previously done with Idi Amin, who lived out his life peacefully in Saudi Arabia. By the way, I think this is the best way to get rid of the Asads and the ruling clique. Let then take their money and live in Abu-Dhabi till they die naturally and let Syria become democratic.

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November 15th, 2008, 11:34 pm


62. norman said:

aig ,

It is not a threat it is a promise sooner or later if Israel does not give the Arabs their rights , They will take them by force no matter how long that will take , sooner or later and as the crusades left after 200 year so is today’s Israel as we know it . your nuclear bombs will not help in a close up war.

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November 16th, 2008, 12:00 am


63. AIG said:

It is not a threat it is a promise that sooner or later Israel will completely destroy Syria if the Syrians do not stop threatning to use force for whatever reason.

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November 16th, 2008, 12:04 am


64. norman said:


Israel should try like it tried to get rid of Hezbollah, The only reason Israel still exist is because the Arabs so far laked the well to fight , That changed after the trouble the US in in Iraq and after the loss that Israel suffered in 1006 war.

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November 16th, 2008, 12:09 am


65. norman said:

This is intersting and could explain Syria’s affiliations with Hamas , Hezbollah and Iran,


Syria’s Deadly Bargain

Nov. 15, 2008
(The New Republic) This column was written by
Lee Smith.
The Bush administration has quietly authorized U.S. forces to attack Al-Qaeda bases around the Middle East–an escalation in the war on terror that Eli Lake first revealed two weeks ago in The New Republic and that The New York Times reported on this week. One of the administration’s most recent targets was Syria, where it struck Al-Qaeda leader Badran Turki Hishan al Mazidih last month.

Though Syrian officials feigned ignorance at Al-Qaeda’s encampment within its borders, the reality is that the country not only tolerates the presence of terrorists, but encourages them to use the country as a safe-haven, headquarters, and transit point. Why does Syria continue to harbor terrorists, knowing that it places the country squarely in the crosshairs of the Bush administration? Particularly in light of Syria’s historical problems with its own Islamist groups, why would it welcome radicals from across the region? Finding the answer to these questions is crucial in trying to defeat one of the Middle East’s most prolific boosters of terrorism.

To better understand Syria’s motivations, I visited Abdel Halim Khaddam, Syria’s former vice president, in Brussels, where he was leading a meeting of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a Syrian opposition group. Having served under both Hafez al-Assad and his son Bashar, Khaddam is well-acquainted with the strategic and political exigencies driving the regime’s support for terror. “Fighting the Americans in Iraq is very dangerous,” he tells me. “But it also makes Bashar popular. Under the banner of resistance, anything is popular.”

Thus, it seems the first reason Syria backs these militants is because it wins public acclaim. As is the case in many countries across the Arab world, most Syrians distinguish between terror and resistance. They define the former as violence that hurts Syrians and Syrian interests–such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s war against the Syrian state in the late 1970s and early ’80s, for example. But resistance is the violence that the Syrian regime makes possible at the expense of other states–from Lebanon to Israel to Iraq–strengthening its position as the self-described “capital of Arab resistance.”

For instance, when Hezbollah went to war against Israel in the summer of 2006, it hurt not only Israel but the majority of Lebanese, who were not standing with Hezbollah. But Syria’s logistical, financial, and political support for the Islamic resistance burnished Assad’s credentials at home, while also earning him respect across the region. If other Arab rulers, like Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Saudi king Abdullah Al-Saud, were, in Assad’s words, “half-men,” the Syrian had shown himself to be a citadel of anti-Zionist, anti-Western resistance, the most popular Arab leader after Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah.

Support for terror is also a significant element in Syria’s attempt to exert power over its neighbors. In addition to hosting groups that target Israel, like Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria has long maintained a broad portfolio of regional terror outfits, from secular organizations like Abdullah Ocalan of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) and Palestinian rivals to Yasser Arafat, to Salafi groups like Shaker al-‘Absi’s Fatah splinter organization, Fatah al-Islam. And as the recent US attack on Bou Kamal illustrated, Damascus hosts significant Iraqi assets, such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Syria also uses these groups as insurance against the subterfuge of fellow Arab regimes. “Before 1970, Syria was the place where other people interfered,” Obeida Nahas, a Muslim Brotherhood representative with the NSF, tells me. Ever since Syrian independence in 1946, coup followed coup, all of them backed or instigated by outside actors, including Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and even the U.S. “When Hafez al-Assad came to power,” Nahas explains to me, “he made a pre-emptive counter-attack to interfere in other regimes before they could get to Syria.”

Nahas’s father-in-law, Ali Sadr al-Din al-Bayanouni–the leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in exile, who spent two decades living in Jordan–is himself an illustration of this strategy. Amman’s relationship with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is part of a long-standing rivalry, in which the Jordanians back Syrian Islamists like al-Bayanouni as a threat to the Damascus government, and Syria, in turn, supports elements of Jordan’s Islamist opposition, like the Islamic Action Front. While this game of chicken seems to risk Islamist blowback, it is a key strategy in Arab balance-of-power politics.

The Syrians have similarly managed their relationship with Saudi Arabia, which has been at an all-time low since the 2005 murder of former Lebanese prime minister and Saudi ally Rafiq al-Hariri, which the Saudis blamed on Damascus. In December 2005, Khaddam made a big splash in the first part of a televised interview on the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite network charging Bashar with the assassination, but then the Saudi royal family pulled the plug on the second part of the interview. The public rationale in Arab circles is that the Saudi kingdom is not in the habit of bringing down fellow Arab regimes. More likely, however, is that Damascus has an important card to play against the Saudis, who fear that Syria is holding several hundred Saudi fighters in prison; Damascus could embarrass the Saudis by publically announcing the existence of these extremists–or even worse, allow those jihadis to return home to fight the House of Saud.

This kind of leverage is not the only reason Syria keeps its jails stocked with foreign terrorists. According to Ghassan al-Mufleh, an NSF member who spent 12 years in Syrian jails for his Communist activities, this is also one of their primary ways of collecting intelligence, as well as tapping foreign agents to do their bidding abroad and subvert Arab rivals. Since Syria does not require visas from Arabs to enter the country, many terrorists use it as a transit point to places like Iraq, “so if they return from jihad alive and want to head home–Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco–they just say that they were working in Syria,” Mufleh tells me. But this free flow also allows the Syrians to detain valuable operatives and “give them a choice–either they can agree to work for the Syrian services or they will be turned into their own home intelligence agency,” he says. “It is an easy choice.”

Shaker al-‘Absi is a case in point. Along with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, ‘Absi was sentenced to death in absentia by the Jordanian authorities for the 2002 murder of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman. Syria rejected Jordan’s extradition request for ‘Absi and allegedly detained him in prison for a few years. He resurfaced last spring in a northern Lebanon refugee camp, leading Fatah al-Islam in its month-long battle with the Lebanese Armed Forces–part of Assad’s plan to destabilize the Lebanese government, which the Syrian president describes as hostile to Syrian interests.

Syria’s incessant meddling in Lebanon also illustrates a larger motivation for their support of terrorists. Long before the Americans touched down in Iraq, the Assads (father and son) recognized that supporting terror meant Washington would have to include Damascus in any of its regional dealings. For instance, U.S. policymakers have historically felt compelled to engage with Syria in order to secure peace in Jerusalem, since, as American officials euphemistically explain, Syria has the ability to “spoil” the Arab-Israeli peace process by unleashing their Hamas or Hezbollah clients. Thus, according to Khaddam, Colin Powell’s efforts in May 2003 to convince Damascus to close its Hamas offices were futile. “The Americans should’ve known better,” he says. “How could Bashar separate himself from Hamas? It’s an important card for him, so why would he throw it away?”

But perhaps the most significant driver of Syria’s support for terrorism is that it clinches the relationship with their only strategic partner in the region that is not a terrorist group. “Bashar helped the groups in Iraq because there is an arrangement with Iran to undermine the Americans,” Khaddam says. He claims that Syria’s decision to let Al-Qaeda use their borders to fight the Americans in Iraq is largely at the behest of Tehran: “Iran’s ambitions in the region stretch from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, which is against the interest of the Arabs and the West. Syria’s alliance leaves it in the middle of the conflict but there is no way out of the relationship.”

Khaddam dismisses the notion prevalent in some U.S. and Israeli circles that it is possible to split Syria from Iran. “Iranian influence is extensive,” he says. If there are factions in the Damascus government, it is not about whether Syria should lean towards Iran or the West. “The disagreements are about personal interests and cuts of money, not Iran. Everyone agrees about Iran.”

But as Mufleh notes wryly, Assad would do well to learn the lessons of Syrian history: It was his own father’s decision to provide jihadis passage through to Afghanistan in the ’80s that inadvertently helped defeat his Soviet patron. For all the good reasons to support “resistance,” Tehran as well as Damascus may one day be on the receiving end of Islamist terror–a price infinitely higher than last month’s U.S. raid on Syrian territory.

By Lee Smith
Reprinted with permission from The New Republic.

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November 16th, 2008, 12:14 am


66. AIG said:

No problem, believe what you want to believe and threaten us as much as you want. I also recommend you use Hizballah tactics from the Golan if you are not a cowrad. If you talk the language of force, that is what we will talk back to you. We are giving the Arab world a chance. If you do not take it and continue threatning us with force like you are doing, then you will leave us no choice but to completely destroy you.

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November 16th, 2008, 12:18 am


67. SimoHurtta said:

What Mouallem said cannot be true since the IAEA found ENRICHED unranium and Israel uses depleted uranuium in some of its conventional bombs. Mouallem put his foot in his mouth big time.

IAEA has said nothing so far AIG, only some Israeli and US “diplomats” anonymously as usual to reporters. The original Reuters item talked about a Uranium compound which is not a natural ore. The word “compound” was used in the first Reuter’s item but the later NYT report used the word “combined”. Reuter’s later used the word “processed” saying it could mean “enriched”. Hmmmm …..


Though I must wonder as engineer but as an amateur with this nuclear things some points.

A) If it was a functioning nuclear reactor (which I doubt) the cleaning operation after the bombing would have been a massive job (as in Thule when USA lost nuclear bombs lately reported by BBC) and certainly noticed around the world with raised radiation levels. Surely USA, Israel, Russia, EU and China have wast amounts of satellite pictures of that cleaning operation if it ever happened. Where are those pictures? Surely that would have this propaganda attack easier.

B) If it was a nuclear reactor on the building stage, far from finished, there is surely no uranium laying around and certainly not valuable enriched uranium.

On the other hand if the site was “something else military” Israel certainly would have made it nuclear in order to make its deliberately leaked story and propaganda aims to “hold”.

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November 16th, 2008, 12:33 am


68. norman said:

Shai, Rumyal ,

What do you think , could peace closer than expected ,

At least somebody is looking for the welfere of Israel on the long run,


Obama Wants Israel Back to 1967 Borders
Saturday, November 15, 2008 6:17 PM

President-elect Barack Obama intends to pursue a Mideast peace policy that calls on Israel to revert to its pre-1967 borders in return for official diplomatic recognition by the Arab world.

A senior Obama adviser told the London Times that Obama will throw his support behind a 2002 Saudi peace initiative that also has been endorsed by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the Arab League, and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Under the plan:

Israel would be able to veto the return of Arab refugees expelled in 1948.

Israel would restore the Golan Heights to Syria.

Palestinians would be allowed to establish a state capital in east Jerusalem.

According to the senior adviser, Obama has said privately that Israel would be “crazy” to reject such a plan, since it would “give them peace with the Muslim world.”

© 2008 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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November 16th, 2008, 12:44 am


69. Shai said:


Most Israelis, like most others anywhere, are people that need to be led. They do not form their own thought, but rather follow the thoughts others put in their heads (the media, the politicians, etc.) And in order to change their mind, to that favoring peace under realistic conditions (not “peace-for-peace”), a leader would have to lead them away from their fears and concerns of today. Such a leader, unfortunately, may well have to be led himself/herself.

I suspect Netanyahu will win the upcoming election. As he may not be ready to deliver peace (I think he is, but I may be wrong), someone like Barack Obama and his new administration will have to “lead” Bibi in that direction. Like Bush Sr. and Baker did with another Likud PM, Shamir, so might Obama and his new Secretary of State Hillary (?) have to lead-by-threats. Unlike the past 8 years, and maybe even the 8 years before those, I’d say there’s a reasonable chance this administration will dictate to Israel the policy it intends her to support, and if she doesn’t, we may be back to threats (cutting off financial aid, military supply, etc.)

With all of Bibi’s bravado, a serious threat of turning off the money-tap may well turn the anti-terrorist ex-commando into a tail-waving peaceful pup. Let’s hope we won’t need to go down that road. It’ll be quite embarrassing for Israel…

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November 16th, 2008, 5:02 am


70. why-discuss said:

One thing is sure about Obama, he seems to have a repulsion for lobbies. I guess the jewish lobby and the AI may loose their influence and hopefully the US will dictate to Israel its policy and not vice-versa.

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November 16th, 2008, 5:40 am


71. AIG said:

In the US it is the congress that allocates money and the money to Israel is guaranteed for 10 years. In order to stop it Obama would need a majority in congress. That has zero probability of happening.
Second, all Netanyahu has to say is that by law he is required to bring any peace deal to a referundum. That is both true and also stops any US pressure in its tracks unless Obama is willing to make his threats in public.
Third, the pressure he tried to put on Israel misfired on Bush senior and he was not elected to a second term. Clinton used the Jewish sentiment against Bush very much in his favor in his campaign.
Fourth, the democrats are too “nice” to resort to threats. It will take years before they resort to that if at all. It is only the republican presidents who have ever pressured Israel with Eisenhower being the only one to do so successfully.
Fifth, unfortunately, Hamas will never accept to give up the right of return and Israel will not begin to be pressured before Hamas agrees to the framework. Since Hamas does not even agree to recognize Israel and also it does not accept the previous agreements signed by the Palestinians we are not even close to the situation of Israel being the bottleneck and worthy of pressure.

Anyway, once the Saudi plan is spelled out and it becomes clear that it “sells out” the Palestinian diaspora and gives up the right of return, there will be zero support for it in the Arab world and the Arab countries will quickly backpedal from it. Also, in this economic environment there is no chance of substantial payments being made to the Palestinians. Even in Lebanon will not be able to support the Saudi plan because it means retaining its Palestinians permanently and they will not be able to continue fooling themselves that the Palestinians are only temporarily in Lebanon.

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November 16th, 2008, 7:05 am


72. Zenobia said:


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November 16th, 2008, 8:06 am


73. jad said:

LOL, welcome back Zenobia, How are you? it’s been a while I didn’t read your comments on here.

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November 16th, 2008, 8:10 am


74. Shai said:

I was just talking to someone about SC, and about AIG. And I was going to go back to work, but decided to just peek a moment (foolish me) at SC this morning. And then, ZENOBIA is back!!! Hello Zenobia! How are you? So good to hear you again.

And, by the way, so what are you trying to say…? 🙂

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November 16th, 2008, 9:07 am


75. Off the Wall said:

Your translation of Batul is more concise than mine. By the way, I am seriously considering taking Hebrew classes, what is your suggestion, a private tutor, community college courses, or some self teaching software? Also, with you knowing both languages, is Hebrew grammar closer to Arabic grammar, since the feminine and masculine items are present in both languages very profoundly?

Somehow I expected that hard work and no galas suite you very well, Way to

Dear Alex-No
Thanks for the clarification regarding the nature of the “discovered” Uranium traces. That does not bode well with SIG who responded to one of my comments by shouting “it is ENRICHED Uranium”. May be, and as usual, he has sources that non of us have, including IAEA. Yet again, we are used to AIG making unfounded assertions. That said, no one really knows except those who really know!

Welcome back. I missed the “IGNORE AIG” call 🙂

Dear Norman

You are far from being demented. Just read my words above “no one really knows except those who really know” can you ever dream of writing a more demented phrase? 🙂

On the Interview of with NSF members

But as Mufleh notes wryly, Assad would do well to learn the lessons of Syrian history: It was his own father’s decision to provide jihadis passage through to Afghanistan in the ’80s that inadvertently helped defeat his Soviet patron. For all the good reasons to support “resistance,” Tehran as well as Damascus may one day be on the receiving end of Islamist terror–a price infinitely higher than last month’s U.S. raid on Syrian territory.

I think this is historically inaccurate. Syria did not try to give safe passage to Afghani Arabs as a sign of fostering resistance, during that time, Syria was herself struggling against the MB murderous rampage, and Afghanistan was a welcomed diversion of Jihadi man power a way from Syria, not a support for their movement. Syria’s official stance on that matter was in fact unpopular among many Syrian, who drank the Saudi and US cool-aid about the “infidel Russians” in Afghanistan.

As for the basic premise of the article, I think that no one is learning the lesson that using any extremist group as a counterweight and as a pressure card will always, no but, no if, backfire. Israel built up Hamas as a counterweight to Arafat. Part of the problem is that the least expensive group to build up is suicidal jihadist. They are easy to recruit from among the disgruntled without any need for much ideological indoctrination. They simply start from a set of accepted principles and move towards radicalization and paradigm shift using social isolation, frustration, ignorance, a sense of impotence that is rather prevalent in poor countries, and a determination to twist reality. Internal oppression by a government helps, but it is not the only cause. What is essential is the devastating sense of impotence. Just think of KSA, there is no anti-Islamic oppression in the kingdom, the facts are exactly the opposite. If you are Saudi, the more piety you demonstrate, the higher your chances of further promotion (socially and economically). So Islamists are not really oppressed in practicing their religion, only when that practice collides with the interest of the ruling class, they get hit at individual level but not as a movement. The educational and official agenda continues to be supportive of regressive social and ideological platforms.


I am not sure whether you are intentionally misleading us or doing so out of ignorance. What is guaranteed by the US congress is not the aid, it is only when Israel requires loan guarantees that the 10 year period enters the game at no cost to US tax payers unless Israel defaults on its loans. The annual aid is an annual budget item, and like many other items, it is decided annually. The only single guarantee is the support of a majority of members to that aid. Bush the first used the loan guarantees to pressure Israel, but annual the Aid continues to be a sacrosanct issue.

Needless to say, given the economic and financial troubles the US is going through, Israel will be well advised not to over advertize the economic success if it wants the aid to continue unstopped and with out any serious public or political challenge . At the psychological level, those advocating a halt to US aid to Israel, for good or bad motives, will find a more receptive ear in the US. Just remember, one of the strong argument Obama made, and it has been echoed by many within the political establishment in the US pertains to the 70+ billions of Iraqi revenue that is not being used.

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November 16th, 2008, 6:13 pm


76. Shai said:


This is the worst time for Israel to be in this situation, where Obama’s secretary of state (Hillary?) will be visiting Netanyahu, and saying “Look, it’s not that we don’t WANT to keep giving you money… it’s that we CAN’T…” Netanyahu, or whoever is going to lead our country 80 days from now, will have to be on their best behavior, not to get on anyone’s nerves in Washington. Despite the “mooshy-feely” character I’m sure some Republicans are attributing to Obama, I have a funny suspicion that your Barack is not going to be a very “patient” President, given the near-insurmountable challenges ahead of him. Those that will stand in his way, in the Middle East as well as elsewhere, will get left behind. And if that means cutting off financial aid, he’ll do it.

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November 16th, 2008, 6:56 pm


77. AIG said:


And what will Obama do to those that don’t stop terrorism or don’t stop developing nuclear weapons? Is Obama going to be “patient” with them? Or according to your wishful thinking he will only be tough on Israel and nice to terrorists. Perhaps he will be tough on everyone. Fair enough, I will be happy with that. Or perhaps he will be nice to everybody. That will be sad. But he won’t be nice to the US enemies and tough on its allies. That is political suicide.

If he gets “tough” and and says for example, that Israel must allow a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and dismantle all settlements and withdraw to the 67 line and the Hamas must renounce violence and recognize Israel and also accept that there will not be a right of return, what do you think will happen? There will be a public discussion in Israel but Hamas will immediately say no and so will most of the Arab street. What will be Obama’s next step???

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November 16th, 2008, 7:28 pm


78. Off the Wall said:

Dear Shai
I do share your funny suspicion about Obama being less than patient with lack of real progress on any front including peace negotiations. It is obvious so far from his selection of COS to potential secretary of state and so on, this president-elect of ours is a man of action who realizes that for him to accomplish anything, he needs strong willed leaders standing beside him. The strength of character and self confidence this man has are extraordinary and it bodes well for our future.

We are heading into far reaching economical difficulties. After the $700 Billions bail out, and the early indication of misuse, or lack of use, of the first installment, very few in the US have stomach for political maneuvering and delay tactics by our friends and foes as well. I think that Obama’s style would be to give everyone an opportunity to get on board, but once you on board, there will be no return. He will demand maturity from everyone. And all of us will have to face difficult choices, including Obama himself.

As for financial aid, in a recent discussion with AIG, and following some reading I have been doing about the Israeli economy, I believe that cutting the aid will not result in severe impacts on Israel’s economy or military readiness. No American president will do anything that can be viewed as jeopardizing Israel’s military superiority in the region. But Obama has a lot of political capital to work with, and from a political stand point, he can easily put Netanyahu or for that matter the Israeli, Syrian, or Palestinian leadership to task. He does not owe the Saudis any favor, and he will not be compelled to play their game. All parties, including Israeli politicians will probably face a dialogue like this: You chose, you can be serious about this unprecedented opportunity, of which we are (the US) is partaking despite of our severe difficulties or would you want us to put he whole issue on the back-burner and focus on other priorities. I you chose to participate, then we only have a limited time and we will be less than tolerant of political standing, we have a lot of issues and stressing priorities to take care off here at home and in other places, please take note of that. In itself, such would be a dramatic change, and It will pay. I do not think that Obama will shy from explaining his stance to his people, who are genuinely committed to the security of Israel and to the rights of Palestinians. I expect that Clinton or any possible Secretary of State (except for Dennis Ross), will say, we have allowed you electoral concerns to sabotage couple of golden opportunities, we can not and will not afford that again, at least not while Obama is President. The Arabs must also be cognizant of that, and as Mr. Zogby said, must be realistic as well.

At the end of the day, we also have a role to play, the first thing we need to do is to dispel this racist notion that we (Arabs and Jews) are inevitable enemies and that we have been fighting for thousands of years and that we will continue to do so no matter what. This is why I am profoundly interested in what Rumyal has called for. I think a first step we need to do is to have someone in the media take note of what goes on here at SC. Let someone bring the story of our dialogue out. I am thinking of writing a letter to Bill Moyer to bring SC to his attention, and even if we do not receive a full hour of coverage, mentioning our joint efforts will go a long way to show that the Internet is not only a hot bed of pornography or of extremist websites, it also allows genuine understanding and a common bond that is getting deeper by the day.

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November 16th, 2008, 7:53 pm


79. Shai said:


I agree with everything you said. Next RyJ on me! You know, I try to remain optimistic, even when most around me aren’t. I refuse to surrender, or to allow the “tide of the masses” to take me in undesirable directions. I’ve never wanted to think like most (in fact, I’m almost fearful of that notion), and if 70% of Israelis think like AP does (certainly not like AIG, as I’ve shown recently), then that’s something we’ll have to change. Indeed, Obama will help us in that task. If Bibi plans to participate, or to lead, in changing Israeli public opinion, fantastic. If not, the new American administration will make it very clear to Israelis, that there is a price to pay for continuing to reject peace.

While most are fearful of the upcoming financial Tsunami (not AIG’s “Islamic Tsunami”) that will be hitting our pockets in 2009, as far as the political opportunities are concerned, I’m actually quite hopeful. It is precisely when we suffer economically, that we begin to put other things into proportion. So when Israel enjoyed the high-tech bubble, it didn’t have to deal with the second Intifada. But now, 2009 seems like it will be the “Year of Reconsideration”, where each and every one of us will be forced to think about the basics again – what’s truly important in life, and what is less.

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November 16th, 2008, 8:16 pm


80. jad said:

Dar OTW,
As always, you write excellent debates and fine ideas.

I’m going to make fool of myself here for many reasons, but I have some questions for you and for every Syrian on SC to ask:
Getting the Golan back and sign a peace agreement with Israel,

What does that do to me as an average Syrian?
How is that going to change my corrupted society and the police state I live in?
How is that going to build me a better future?
Are there going to be a better work opportunities for young Syrians with that Is that going to drop the unemployment rate in Syria and how?
How is that going to improve the human right?
Are we as a society ready for peace, do we know how to deal with that?
How is our education system going to be improved by just that?
What about the Golan properties we will get back, are they going to be handed over to investors to turn them into “rich only” resorts?
What peace does to me as a SYRIAN and how should I prepare myself for that if it ever happens?

I’m asking those question because I always read about the changes will happen on the other side of the fence but I never read about my Syrian side that I should only care about and that should improve itself regardless of what future hold for us.

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November 16th, 2008, 8:48 pm


81. norman said:


Are you in Syria,?

I am going to get my son from tennis, I would like to answer you on the last thread.

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November 16th, 2008, 9:00 pm


82. Off the Wall said:

Dear Jad
Thank you very much for the nice words. I also struggle with the same questions, in on veriety or another. I have just posted a comment on the Milliband Story (originally posted by Norman), in which I am asking the Europeans not to condition thier support of the peace agreement on anything but the rights of all to live in safety and peace, but to condition any further economic and political support of both Syria and Palestine on measureable progress for political and democratic progress. Like you, and all other commentators on this site, I want to make the peace agreement as a new begining in our history. And I would be very much interested in hearing our Esteemed Ambassador, and other intellectuals, address the changes on our side of the fense.

I have to go now, But we should by all means continue this discussion.

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November 16th, 2008, 9:06 pm


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