News Round-Up (August 1, 2008)

(Posted by Qifa Nabki)

There are more and more pieces in the mainstream press about the price of peace, particularly on the Syrian side. Parts of two of them are reproduced below, with links to the full text. The al-Ahram column is a good survey of attitudes around the region, and it concludes realistically that "it is unlikely that Syria would sever its ties with either Iran or Hizbullah…" The Jerusalem Post article is another one of these "Syria is going to sell everything including the kitchen sink for peace" stories. One wonders who these newspaper editors are and how they take themselves seriously publishing such "unconfirmed" reports.

Separation anxiety?

Al-Ahram Weekly (31 July – 6 August, 2008) 

Signs point to a reconfiguration of Syria's relation to Iran, though the signals are mixed, writes Bassel Oudat from Damascus

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem, who is now in Iran to attend a Non-Aligned Movement meeting, is said to be also making preparations for a visit by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to Tehran. Analysts will be following closely the visit, looking for any signs of change in Syrian regional policy. Recently, Damascus seems to be doing a lot of things differently: talking to Europe, staying out of Lebanon, talking to the Israelis, and generally stressing the pragmatic aspect of its foreign policy.

When President Al-Assad was in Paris recently, he offered to help resolve inter- Palestinian differences. Then he gave a warm welcome to President Mahmoud Abbas in Damascus a few weeks ago. Damascus is said to be advising Palestinian groups, including Hamas, to cool things down for now.

Damascus distanced itself also from turbulence in Iraq, told its media to stop badmouthing the Saudis, and asked the French president to see if the Americans would co-sponsor their talks with Israel.

All of this is bound to affect Syrian-Iranian relations, as well as the way Tehran is doing business in the region. Without Syria's support, the Iranians will not be able to work hand-in-hand with Hizbullah, and the legitimacy of their involvement in Iraq will be called into question.

Inside and outside the region, there is much speculation that Syria is about to ditch its alliance with Iran. Should this happen, Syria's relations with Hizbullah are bound to change and Lebanon's domestic politics will never be the same again.  [click here for full text]

'Syria willing to cut ties with Iran'

Aug. 1, 2008, Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST

A peace agreement with Syria is within reach, according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's envoys to talks with Syria, who returned from another round of indirect negotiations in Turkey and were quoted in a Maariv report Friday.

According to the report, the sides have already formulated a sketch of a peace deal and have told the Turkish mediators that they are willing to pay the price, which, for the Syrians, would include cutting off Iran.

The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the report.

The sketch includes several clauses, the report said. According to the first, general, chapter, the two countries will end the state of war between them, establish a viable peace, including an exchange of ambassadors and the establishment of diplomatic relations.

The second clause of the agreement delineates the terms of normalization between Jerusalem and Damascus.

The third chapter will reportedly deal with security arrangements and will include a full Israeli withdrawal form the plateau and the demilitarization of the area. According to the Maariv report, the chapter will also specify a drastic reduction in the magnitude of Syrian armed forces stationed between the Golan and Damascus as well as the erection of an early warning station manned by international forces on Mount Hermon.

According to the report, there was no way to directly prevent Syria from having ties with Iran. The agreement could, however, forbid Damascus from providing weapons to – or harboring representatives of – nations or organizations that threaten Israel.

The report quoted officials familiar with the negotiations as saying that the Syrians had expressed their awareness of Israel's demand and did not reject it.

The officials also said that talks with Israel had already exacted a price from Syrian President Bashar Assad in terms of his relationship with Teheran.

Also in JPost, Jonathan Spyer argues the opposite case ("We'll take the dowry, you keep the bride"), namely that Bashar al-Asad is merely playing the process.

With all this rapprochement going on, the alliance with Iran seems safe and sound. Muallem was in Teheran this week, and met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The two reconfirmed what Ahmedinejad called their "regional cooperation," and the Iranian president lauded the foiling of "the Zionist regime" and America's plans in Lebanon and Syria.

Thus, the act of talking in Istanbul seems a worthy investment. But it is the side benefits of the conversation which interests Damascus.

This was perhaps most eloquently summed up yesterday on the Web site of the official Syrian newspaper Tishreen's. While the regional newspaper Sharq al-Awsat
devoted two editorials this week to dissecting the negotiations, on the same day that the talks resumed, Tishreen's homepage failed even to acknowledge that they were taking place. Instead, the lead story on its Web site informed readers that "his excellency President Bashar Assad met with a delegation of American churchmen yesterday. In the meeting, we are told, his excellency stressed the importance of dialogue between nations."

There could be few more eloquent demonstrations of Syrian intentions. When it comes to negotiating with Israel, Assad is keen to take the dowry, while showing little enthusiasm for embracing the bride.

In The Daily Star, a discussion about Hizbullah's likely response to Olmert's resignation, i.e. a claim of victory. Plus, the implications of extending UNSCR 1701.

Syria: trial of Damascus Declaration signatories opens in Damascus

Three journalists – Fayez Sara, Ali Abdallah and Akram Al-Bunni – were among the 12 signatories of the Damascus Declaration whose trial on charges of “publishing false information with the aim of harming the state,” “membership of a secret organisation designed to destabilise the state” and “fuelling ethnic and racial tension” began in Damascus on 30 July. The hearing was open to the public.

All of the defendants pleaded not guilty and insisted that the aim of the Damascus Declaration was to defend Syria.

Sara was arrested on 3 January. Abdallah were Bunni were arrested in December after a meeting of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration on 11 December. A total of 39 signatories were arrested at the meeting but most were later released.

Signed by many government opponents and human rights activists, the Damascus Declaration called for “democratic and radical change” in Syria. Another Syrian writer journalist, Michel Kilo, was arrested on 14 May 2006 for signing the Damascus-Beirut, Beirut-Damascus Declaration. He is now serving a three-year prison sentence.

Syria hosts Iraqi Shiite leader
Published: July 31, 2008
DAMASCUS, Syria, July 31 (UPI)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hosted Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council at a meeting on improving bilateral relations.

Hakim, the Shiite deputy chairman of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, updated the Syrian president on the latest political developments in Iraq, particularly the work toward national reconciliation in the Iraqi government.

For his part, Assad emphasized his support for the maintenance of Iraqi sovereignty, stability and security, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said.

Hakim said in a statement following the meeting that Assad had exemplified a strong political will to boost bilateral relations between the two Arab neighbors.

Assad was also commended by Hakim and his accompanying delegation for his support for displaced Iraqis residing in Syria.

Hakim also took the opportunity to update Assad on the progress of the security arrangement under negotiation between the United States and Iraq.

Under consideration now is "outlining the frame of relations between Iraq and the United States," the deputy chairman said.

Comments (56)

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51. Alex said:

“With the exception of surfing certain Canadian websites (and not clicking on the “English” button), French has been slightly less “crucial”, than Arabic”

: )

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August 3rd, 2008, 4:20 am


52. Shai said:

I knew you’d catch it… But I did click “English” eventually… 🙂

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August 3rd, 2008, 4:22 am


53. Alex said:

actually … I was thinking … do you in Israel have the same “problem” we have in Canada? … bilingual sites .. signs .. ads.

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August 3rd, 2008, 4:47 am


54. Off the Wall said:

I regret not learning French. It cost me dearly, but starting this fall, I will be taking classes in the nearby community college

Last night I was flipping channels, and I happened to stop by ISMOV channel, there was a series about two boys at risk who stabbed another, some guy I thought was a police detective. I do not recall the name of the series, but i was able to recognize few words such as “ani”, “nakhnu”, and I bett if I keep watching over time, I would be able to recognize more. Norman is right, the roots are the same, with the key diversion occurring due to the fact that the “7imyar” dialect, (Yemen), became the Classical Arabic through the Quran, from which later the modern Arabic dialects were derived. But in Syria, Aramaic language speakers would probably understand much a significant amount of Hebrew.

My cousin studied Literature, and they were supposed to study two classical languages, so she picked up Aramaic and Hebrew, it seemed that she almost got two for the price of one! smart woman.

I agree with your assessment regarding speaking Arabic.

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August 3rd, 2008, 5:06 am


55. norman said:


During the time of Christ , The dominant language was Aramaic while Hebrew was the language of the Temple , after the expulsion of the Jews from Palestine they elected the Language of the Temple to keep their community together.

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August 3rd, 2008, 1:09 pm


56. Shai said:


Though the official languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic, there is no law that I’m aware of which requires all signs to be in both languages. Some are only in Hebrew, some in both Hebrew and Arabic, and some in Hebrew and English. Definitely not the situation of Canada, or Belgium. Personally, I’ve always suffered from watching the awful spelling of some words on these signs, in English for instance. Those in charge of the “spelling” have probably never set foot on a plane, nor studied more than 5-6 years of English… One of our highways is called the “Ayalon”. In Hebrew, it is spelled with two yud’s. So in English, they write on road signs “Ayyalon”. They also think tourists will know to look for the train station by its Hebrew name “Harakevet”, so signs along main roads read that, instead of “Train Station”… Quite shameful, but some elderly Polish and Yemeni workers in this state-run “translation department” can’t be fired. They’ll probably be translating our peace agreement. They’ll call it “Piece Aggriment Israel-Siryya”… 🙂

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August 3rd, 2008, 4:11 pm


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