Prison Riot, Golan, Syria Heads East

Syria prison riot draws conflicting accounts 

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian authorities said on Sunday they had restored order at a military jail near Damascus after a riot, but dissidents said the protest was not over and that dozens of prisoners had been killed.

The riot broke out on Saturday at Sidnaya prison, a huge complex 30 km (19 miles) northwest of the capital Damascus that houses thousands of criminals, political prisoners and soldiers convicted of violating military rules.

"Several prisoners convicted of extremism and terror crimes created chaos… The issue required the interference of anti-riot units to restore calm," the Syrian state news agency said.

The agency did not say whether there were any casualties. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organisation based in London, said Syrian security forces had killed dozens of prisoners during the riot.

The Observatory said Islamist prisoners, many of whom have been held at Sidnaya for years without trial, started the riot. It quoted witnesses as saying a hospital was filled with the wounded.

Syrian dissidents based in Beirut said prisoners were still rioting and that security forces remained heavily deployed around the prison and the hospital.

The Kurdish Coordination Committee, an umbrella group of Kurdish opposition parties in Syria, said the prisoners were only demanding better living condition.

"Syrian prisons are among the worse in the world. We do not think the demands of the protestors exceeded asking for better conditions and other humanitarian demands," a statement by the group said.

Syria, which has been ruled by the secular Baath Party since 1963, holds thousands of Islamists and other political prisoners, including writers and human rights advocates. International human rights groups say random arrests and torture are common.

The Baath Party, which put down an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 in the city of Hama, has shown limited tolerance toward Islamists in recent years, with Washington accusing the Damascus government of allowing Islamist fighters to infiltrate into Iraq from Syria.

In The Telegraph, here (Thanks Friday Lunch Club) Adm. Mullen: "Israeli plans Iran attack 'will fail to d…

"The Americans had spies in Iran until they were rounded up in 2003 and now they do not have much by way of humint [human intelligence] on the ground. The Israelis have better information. But the Americans went away from the meetings unconvinced that the Israelis have enough intelligence on where to strike, and with little confidence that they will be able to destroy the nuclear programme."  

Lebanon's Premier May Announce New Cabinet as Early as Tomorrow
By Massoud A. Derhally

July 6 (Bloomberg) — Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora may announce the country's new cabinet as early as tomorrow after the country's political factions agreed on the distribution of portfolios in the new government, his top adviser said. "We are now talking about the details of the portfolios and the names'' of the people who will head the ministries, Mohammad Shateh said in a telephone interview from Beirut today. Siniora may form the government “as early as tomorrow or Tuesday,'' he added…..

Nihad Güle, Des êtres de lumière

D’après le critique d’art Ghazi Ana, Nihad Güle a commencé sa carrière en travaillant sur les espaces de « l’abstraction lyrique », s’appuyant sur la mémoire visuelle de l’enfance. Aujourd’hui, Nihad Güle se tourne vers l’expressionnisme et le personnalisme. suite

Israel has been reluctant to withdraw from the Golan [Sunday Telegraph] because of its strategic position above Syria, while many Israelis have been so taken with its wild beauty that they have built wineries and boutique hotels. The Golan front has also been quiet for years, providing little incentive to resolve the conflict.

"The Golan Heights is considered our Tuscany. Israelis fell in love with the Golan – and it's a very easy conflict for us. That's why it's so difficult to convince Israel to withdraw," Mr Liel said.

Syria, which demands the return of all of Golan, has promised to allow Israelis to continue to enter the western part without visas, though the future of Israeli businesses and towns there is uncertain.

More seriously, the Golan provides more than half of Israel's drinking water and in this year of drought, the biblical Sea of Galilee – known in Israel as Lake Kinneret – is already at dangerously low levels, making Israel reluctant to give it up.

But Turkey is already said to have promised to supply more water to Syria, and possibly to the rest of the region, by drawing on the Euphrates, Tigris or Seyhan rivers. Syria has also demanded the building of a desalination plant in exchange for letting Israel continue to draw drinking water from the Golan. …

"…Alon Liel, a former director of Israel's foreign ministry, said the prospect of a peace agreement with Syria was growing, though it might require a new American president before a deal could be agreed…

"They are asking not only for the Golan Heights but a change in Washington that will break the Syrian isolation internationally," said Mr Liel. "But I also think they will not do it unless they are assured they have an alternative to Iran."
Congress Delivers Promised Israel Aid Bump Despite Budget Deadlock

By Nathan Guttman

While almost all federally financed programs were denied any funding increase for the coming year, aid to Israel from the United States will increase thanks to a legislative loophole and some deft maneuvering by pro-Israel lobbyists.

   Read more…

Syria heads east in effort to boost its foreign investment
By Julien Barnes-Dacey in Damascus
Published: July 7 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 7 2008 03:00

Western isolation has forced Syria increasingly to look eastwards for its economic future. As the country pushes through much-needed reforms, Bashar al-Assad, the president, is focusing on links with rising economic powers such as India and China."

Even as Syria is looking to restore ties with the west, reflected in improved diplomatic relations with France, a forthcoming Assad trip to Paris and renewed peace talks with Israel, Damascus has been careful to foster its relations with other powers.

Mr Assad travelled to India last month, the first time a Syrian leader has visited the country in 30 years.

Safi Shujaa, director of the Syrian Economic Centre, says that "Syria is going seriously to the east", citing international political isolation from the west and economic advantages from the east as the main motivations for the shift.

This decision has taken place even as the country undergoes urgent economic reform in the face of a -stagnant economy and dwindling oil revenues. In recent years Syria has liberalised foreign trade, dropping tariffs and import restrictions, and introduced a more favourable investment climate seeking greater foreign capital for the budding -private sector.

Liu Bo, a commercial attaché at the Chinese embassy in Damascus, says that these reforms have been directly responsible for the increased Chinese engagement. He says that exports to Syria increased by 37 per cent in 2007, while China has pumped $741.52m (€472.5m, £374m) of investment into the country…..

DAMASCUS, July 3 (Xinhua) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that his country would intensify efforts to regain the Palestinian unity, the official SANA news agency reported. Assad made the remarks while meeting with the politburo leader of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, Khaled Meshaal. Syria supports the Palestinian negotiating stance and the return of their legitimate rights, on top the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, Assad asserted.

Meshaal thanked Assad for the aid offered by Syria to the Palestinian people and its efforts to regain unity among the Palestinians and lift the siege imposed on Gaza, SANA reported.

Comments (24)


1. annie said:

What terrible news.
I thought conditions had improved in prisons.
Which freed prisonner spoke of four star facilities ?

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July 7th, 2008, 6:53 am

 

2. Karim said:

Which freed prisonner spoke of four star facilities ?

Annie,the mukhabarat agent Nabil Fayyad.

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July 7th, 2008, 9:17 am

 

3. norman said:

Syria is increasing it’s role,,,

ANALYSIS / Is Syria usurping Egypt’s role in the Palestinian conflict?

By Zvi Bar’el

Tags: Hamas, Syria, Mahmoud Abbas

“When we come to Syria we are coming to our second country,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Syrian President Bashar Assad flatteringly when the two met in Damascus on Sunday. This “homecoming” was initiated by Assad, who recently stepped up his involvement in the Palestinian arena – at Egypt’s expense.

During his two-day visit, Abbas is expected to meet with several leaders of Palestinian factions, with the exception of Hamas politburo chief, Khaled Meshal. The meetings appear to be part of a broader Syrian effort to bring rival Hamas and Fatah closer to national reconciliation. Last Thursday, Assad met with Meshal and after Abbas’ visit to the Syrian capital, another Fatah delegation is due to engage in a dialogue with Hamas.

Assad is competing in an arena which Egypt monopolized, until recently. However, the Egyptians have so far been reluctant in their involvement: They have avoided inviting rival Palestinian factions to Cairo to a joint meeting, in spite of supporting the reconciliation efforts. Apparently Egypt is concerned that such a meeting, without proper preparation, may end in failure, and that the damage may be very difficult to repair. Syria, by comparison, believes that it wields leverage vis-a-vis Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and that its political “dialogue” with Israel excludes it from the group of those being boycotted – therefore allowing Abbas to visit Damascus without provoking Washington’s ire.
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Assad, who is scheduled to participate early next week in the Euro-Mediterranean conference in Paris, would like to arrive with two successes under his belt. The first is the forming of a new Lebanese government; the second is the beginning of a Palestinian national reconciliation. With two such achievements, in addition to the start of talks with Israel, Syria is hoping to pave its way out of the American “axis of evil,” while emphasizing to the Arab states that it is a central player, still capable of fulfilling a role that countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have so far found difficult to play.

Palestinian reconciliation has become a central element in the media dialogue between Hamas and Fatah. In early June Abbas announced his initiative to bring about such a process, which could then lead to Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections. The basic precondition of the Palestinian leader is that the situation in the Gaza Strip be restored to that existing prior to the Hamas takeover in June 2007.

Hamas, which is not opposed to this principle, is asking that any deal be applicable to a broader framework: It wants a reconciliation agreement to include the “recognition of democratic processes” – which means that Abbas will recognize the outcome of the January 2006 elections in which Hamas won an overwhelming majority. In addition, an accord would include creation of an interim, national unity government that will prepare the ground for free elections in the Palestine Liberation Organization, where all factions will participate – including Hamas, for the first time – under the assumption that Hamas will win a majority and carry out both a structural and an ideological revolution in its organization. The agreement is also supposed to call for unifying the Palestinian security organizations, dividing up control over them on the basis of the relative size of the political groups involved, and ending the media war that Fatah is conducting against Hamas.

If the sort of reconciliation that Syria is putting forth does emerge, and an interim unity government is established, Israel may be faced with an old dilemma: Should it recognize such government and establish a working relationship with it – or adopt, anew, the policy of boycotting such a government, and thus bring the talks with Mahmoud Abbas to a standstill?

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July 7th, 2008, 3:36 pm

 

4. Atassi said:

I would think for the Syrian prisoners to stage this kind of a revolt, they must have reached a breaking point. This is a disgraceful and will tarnish Assad’s trip to France if it escalates more …. God help them form the viciousness and brutality of the regime revenges…
====================================
Syria jail revolt inmates fear police assault: rights group
7 July 2008
Agence France Presse
The prisoners who staged a revolt in a Syrian jail fear the security forces will mount a deadly assault, a human rights group said on Monday.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is close to the opposition, says at least 25 people have already been killed since the riots broke out on Saturday.

“The prisoners continued their revolt on Monday but they have freed all those being held hostage, as a goodwill gesture,” the Observatory said in a statement received in Nicosia that quoted a spokesman for the inmates.

The spokesman warned that “a massacre could be committed if the security forces carry out their threat and launch an assault” on the prison in Saydnaya, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the Syrian capital.

Police have pulled back from the facility and patrols are keeping relatives of prisoners at a distance, the rights group said, citing witnesses.

On Sunday, Syrian authorities blamed inmates for provoking the riots in one of the country’s largest prisons, also used for political detainees, without clarifying if order had been restored.

“Prisoners sentenced for crimes of terrorism and extremism caused trouble… in Saydnaya prison. They attacked their comrades during a prison inspection,” the state news agency SANA said.

According to the Observatory, the deaths came as military police fired live bullets at Islamist inmates who rioted after a raid by prison guards. About 400 detained soldiers were taken hostage, it said.

According to a Lebanon-based Syrian political activist, the detainees were willing to surrender if the interior minister pledged they would not be killed or tortured.

One inmate told the BBC’s Arabic service that the guards had treated the prisoners roughly during raids and desecrated copies of the Koran.

Syria has cracked down on dissidents in recent months, drawing strong criticism from the West particularly since the arrests are being carried out under emergency laws in force since 1963.

Saydnaya prison was built in 1987 to accommodate 5,000 inmates but has been used to take up to 10,000, according to the Syrian Human Rights Committee.

In 2004, it held several hundred Muslim Brothers as well as leftists, Palestinians, Islamist militants and detained Syrian soldiers, according to the rights group.

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July 7th, 2008, 6:01 pm

 

5. Karim said:

The french newspaper le Figaro has just published an interview with bashar.

http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2008/07/07/01003-20080707ARTFIG00586-bachar-el-assad-la-france-doit-jouer-un-role-direct-pour-la-paix-au-proche-orient.php

Attendu samedi en France pour participer, dimanche, au sommet euro-méditerranéen, le président syrien a donné lundi une grande interview au «Figaro».

LE FIGARO. Vous allez participer, dimanche, à Paris, au sommet de l’Union pour la Méditerranée, et vous êtes invité par le président Sarkozy au défilé du 14 juillet. Ce voyage marque-t-il le retour de la Syrie sur la scène internationale ?
Bachar EL-ASSAD. La France a une position internationale importante. Cela nous ouvre donc une grande porte sur la scène internationale. Ma visite est importante pour plusieurs raisons. D’abord, parce que nous assistons à une rupture entre la politique actuelle de la France et la politique du passé. Cette nouvelle politique est plus réaliste et correspond davantage aux intérêts de nos deux pays. C’est une base so­lide pour renouer une relation saine. Ensuite, le moment de ma visite est impor­tante, car elle coïncide avec la relance de négociations avec Israël et la fin de la crise libanaise dans laquelle la Syrie s’est impliquée. C’est enfin une occasion pour l’Europe, et notamment pour la France, de jouer un rôle dans la résolution de plusieurs questions concernant notre région. Cette visite est pour moi une visite historique : une ouverture vers la France et vers l’Europe.

Vous avez engagé des relations indirectes avec Israël, en Turquie. Le moment est-il venu de passer à des négociations directes ?

En ce moment, les deux parties testent leurs intentions. Le processus de paix était paralysé depuis huit ans, des agressions ont eu lieu contre la Syrie et le Liban. Dans ces circonstances, il est tout à fait naturel qu’il y ait un manque de confiance. Il faut maintenant trouver une base commune pour entamer des négociations directes ; dès que cette base sera prête, nous pourrons engager ces négociations directes avec Israël. Le plus important dans des négociations directes, c’est leur parrainage. Bien sûr, le rôle des États-Unis est essentiel, mais celui de l’Europe est complémentaire. Et quand nous parlons du rôle politique de l’Europe, la France en est à l’avant-garde.

S’agissant de futures négociations directes, le nouveau président américain pourra-t-il faire avancer les choses ?

Franchement, nous ne pensons pas que l’Administration américaine actuelle soit capable de faire la paix. Elle n’en a ni la volonté, ni la vision, et il ne lui reste plus que quelques mois. Quand nous aurons établi une base commune à l’issue des négociations indirectes avec Israël, peut-être pourrons-nous donner des atouts à la nouvelle Administration pour qu’elle s’implique davantage. Nous misons sur le prochain président américain et son Administration. C’est, nous l’espérons, plutôt un avantage d’avoir un changement de président aux États-Unis.

La France pourrait-elle jouer un rôle actif dans le cadre de négociations directes entre la Syrie et Israël ?

J’en saurai davantage quand j’aurai rencontré le président Sarkozy. Mon impression est qu’il est enthousiaste à l’égard de ces négociations et pour que la France y joue un rôle direct. S’il me le confirme, je l’inviterai aussitôt à soutenir directement ce processus de paix. Bien sûr, je parle ici de négociations directes. La France fait preuve actuellement d’un dynamisme politique très élevé pour pousser en avant le processus de paix.

S’agissant du Liban, après l’accord signé à Doha, allez-vous reconnaître l’indépendance du Liban et procéder à un échange d’ambassadeur ?

Nous avons toujours reconnu l’indépendance du Liban. Nous n’avons pas d’ambassade dans plus de la moitié des pays du monde. Cela ne signifie pas pour autant que la Syrie ne reconnaît pas la souveraineté et l’indépendance de ces pays. En ce qui concerne l’ouverture des deux ambassades en Syrie et au Liban, je l’ai proposée en 2005 aux responsables libanais de l’époque. L’ouverture d’une ambassade nécessite de bonnes relations entre les deux pays. Ces trois dernières années, les relations entre les deux gouvernements n’étaient pas si bonnes. Nous attendons la formation d’un gouvernement d’unité nationale au Liban pour discuter cette question. Mais il n’y aura pas de pro­blème pour ouvrir les deux ambassades. J’ai annoncé à plusieurs reprises cette volonté.

Profiterez-vous de votre visite à Paris pour rencontrer le nouveau président libanais ?

Je connais le président Souleiman depuis une dizaine d’années. Nous nous sommes rencontrés à plusieurs reprises en Syrie et au Liban. Nos relations sont bonnes. Nous l’avons soutenu pour qu’il devienne président et nous le soutenons dans son action politique. Les préparatifs sont en cours pour organiser cette réunion qui aura lieu à Paris.

Au Liban, le Hezbollah est un parti politique qui joue un rôle important. Mais c’est aussi un groupe armé. La Syrie est-elle prête à aider à son désarmement ?

Dans votre question, on ne voit qu’une partie du tableau. Si vous parlez des armes et de la guerre, il faut évoquer les violations perpétrées quotidiennement par Israël à la frontière du Liban-Sud, l’occupation par Israël d’une partie du territoire libanais, les agressions commises pendant les dernières décennies. On ne peut pas parler d’un groupe armé, le Hezbollah ou un autre, sans regarder l’ensemble du tableau. Quelle est la solution ? Politiquement parlant, on ne peut pas dire : «On aime çaet on n’aime pas ça» ; il faut se demander comment résoudre le problème. On a essayé toutes les solutions et on a échoué. Il existe une seule voie et une seule solution : c’est la paix. C’est pourquoi nous parlons toujours de la paix et nous œuvrons toujours pour la paix. Quand il y aura une paix véritable au Liban, en Syrie et dans les Territoires palestiniens, il n’y aura plus de raison de porter les armes.

Le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU a souhaité la création d’un tribunal international pour rechercher et juger ceux qui ont commandé et organisé l’attentat contre l’ancien premier ministre libanais, Rafic Hariri. Quelle est aujourd’hui la position de la Syrie à propos de ce tribunal international ?

Nous avons soutenu les enquêtes depuis le début pour dévoiler les acteurs de cet assassinat. Nous avons coopéré avec les commissions d’enquête et nous continuons à le faire. À plusieurs reprises, les rapports des commissions spécialisées ont relevé la bonne coopération de la Syrie. C’est pourquoi on ne peut pas dire qu’il y a un problème concernant la constitution de ce tribunal international.

La Syrie, qui a signé le traité de non-prolifération nucléaire, s’est engagée à ne pas recourir au nucléaire militaire. Attendez-vous de l’Europe, et notamment de la France, qu’elles vous aident à développer le nucléaire civil ?

Bien sûr, nous sommes vivement engagés par la signature du traité de non-prolifération des armes de destruction massive. En 2003, la Syrie, qui était membre du Conseil de sécurité, a proposé de libérer la région du Proche-Orient de toute arme de destruction massive. Ce document existe toujours au Conseil de sécurité. Ce sont les Américains qui y ont mis leur veto. Jusqu’à maintenant, nous n’avons pas évoqué la question du nuclé­aire civil avec les Européens, mais avec la flambée des prix du pétrole, l’avenir de l’énergie va dans ce sens.

N’est-il pas paradoxal que la Syrie, pays résolument laïc, ait développé depuis longtemps des relations étroites avec l’Iran ?

Les relations entre les différents pays ne se nouent pas sur des ressemblances mais sur des intérêts. L’Iran est un pays important dans la région. Quand on parle de problème et de solution, l’Iran est indispensable. Quand on parle de stabilité et de paix dans la région, l’Iran occupe nécessairement une place importante. Qui plus est, l’Iran soutient la Syrie dans ses différentes causes. Il est tout à fait naturel que nous ayons des relations étroites avec ce pays. Quand une bonne partie des pays occidentaux ont soutenu Saddam Hussein dans sa guerre contre l’Iran, la Syrie, elle, a pris position contre lui. C’est aussi une des raisons pour lesquelles nous entretenons de bonnes relations avec l’Iran.

L’ancien ministre des Affaires étrangères de l’Iran, M.Velayati, juge possible un compromis sur l’acquisition du nucléaire militaire par l’Iran. Partagez-vous ce point de vue, qui privilégie une issue diplomatique à la crise ?

La solution doit être politique et non pas militaire. Toute solution militaire serait payée chèrement par l’ensemble du monde, et pas seulement par les pays de la région. Cela veut dire que l’ensemble des pays doivent être engagés par toutes les lois qui gèrent la question du nucléaire civil. Les Iraniens nous disent «Pourquoi veulent-ils nous priver d’un droit tout à fait légitime et réel pour l’ensemble des pays du monde ?» Si certains pays pensent que l’Iran développe du nucléaire à des fins militaires, il y a des mécanismes de contrôle pour le vérifier. Notre conviction est que l’Iran n’a pas de projet nucléaire militaire. Nous sommes contre l’acquisition de l’arme nucléaire, que ce soit par l’Iran ou par tout autre pays de la région, en particulier Israël. Il n’est pas acceptable qu’Israël possède deux cents têtes nucléaires.

En France et dans beaucoup de pays, il y a une forte inquiétude sur le respect des droits de l’homme en Syrie. Êtes-vous prêt à prendre une initiative positive dans ce domaine ?

Nous ne disons pas que nous sommes un pays démocratique par excellence. Nous disons que nous empruntons ce chemin et c’est un long chemin qui peut durer une ou plusieurs années. Il dépend de la culture, des traditions, des conjonctures politiques et économiques et d’autres conditions régionales et internationales. Nous avons effectué plusieurs pas dans ce sens. Bien évidemment, la loi a besoin d’être amendée et réformée, c’est ce que nous faisons actuellement.

La loi sur les partis politiques dont on parle depuis trois ans pourrait-elle déboucher bientôt ?

Nous avons annoncé cette loi il y a trois ans, mais depuis la Syrie a été confrontée à de nombreux dangers, des guerres, du terrorisme, l’isolement et les difficultés économiques. De ce fait, nous sommes en retard, mais nous continuons.

Le fait de renforcer vos relations avec la France et l’Europe est-il de nature à vous permettre d’avancer en termes d’ouverture politique ?

Oui, d’une façon indirecte, mais pas directe. Car d’une façon directe, ce serait une ingérence dans nos affaires intérieures, et ce serait inacceptable. Mais d’une façon indirecte, quand on aide à établir la paix, à soutenir le développement, la culture et le dia­logue, tout cela pousse en avant le processus d’ouverture en Syrie. C’est le rôle que nous demandons à l’Europe de jouer, et non pas de nous donner des leçons de morale.

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July 7th, 2008, 9:12 pm

 

6. Nour said:

Karim,

What was your take on the interview with Bashar al-Assad?

QN,

I was meaning to ask you this, although it’s off the topic of this thread, but what do you think of the disagreements within March 14 that are delaying the formation of the government?

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July 7th, 2008, 11:15 pm

 

7. Karim said:

Nour ,the most accurate word is :perfidy.

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July 8th, 2008, 12:46 am

 

8. why-discuss said:

Excellent interview, balanced, diplomatic and pragmatic.. The french will jump in the wagon to regain some influences and business in the region, in Iran for example as Iraq is a private hunting ground for the USA 🙂

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July 8th, 2008, 1:03 am

 

9. norman said:

Barbara Walters: Syrian Dictator ‘Charming,’ ‘Intelligent’
By Justin McCarthy (Bio | Archive)
July 7, 2008 – 15:31 ET

Surprise! Barbara Walters visits an anti-American dictator and returns with very nice remarks about him. Returning from the week long break on “The View” July 7, Barbara Walters described how she spent America’s birthday, and the celebration of a document denouncing tyranny, with an anti-American tyrant.

While most Americans celebrated Independence Day with fireworks and barbeques, Barbara Walters spent the occasion dining with Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad, whom Walters described as “intelligent” and “charming” who wants “very much to have good relations with us.” Perhaps realizing her own gushiness about Assad Walters pre-empted accusations and denied she is “brainwashed.”

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The veteran journalist began by noting Syria remains on the State Departments terrorism list because “they are against the war in Iraq.” While she did note Syria’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, she described them simply as “two groups that we consider unfriendly in Israel.” She did not note the many suicide bombings targeting innocent civilians those groups support.

Barbara Walters boasted of a “total freedom of religion” in the despotic state. The non-partisan international watchdog Freedom House, however finds that although it allows a certain degree of religious freedom, certainly more than many Islamic states, it’s far from “total freedom of religion.”

“Although the Constitution requires that the president be a Muslim, there is no state religion in Syria, and freedom of worship is generally respected. However, all nonworship meetings of religious groups require permits, and religious fundraising is closely scrutinized. The Alawite minority dominates the officer corps of the military and security forces. The government tightly monitors mosques and controls appointment of Muslim clergy.”

Walters added, Syria is “considered a dictatorship.” Just “considered?” Freedom House also rated Syria as “not free” with a “downward trend arrow due to the authorities’ suppression of opposition activities.” While conceding she is “not saying this is…a perfect place,” Walters advocated more dialogue with the totalitarian regime.

Although Walters claimed she went on this trip on her own, without the direction of ABC, it is not unprecedented for ABC News to demonstrate sympathy for Bashir al-Assad. “Good Morning America’s” Diane Sawyer pressed Assad on his favorite movies.

The transcript, minus some irrelevant portions of Barbara Walters visiting Damascus’ ancient ruins, is below.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: Barbara went to Syria.

SHERRI SHEPHERD: Syria!

BARBARA WALTERS: Doesn’t everybody when they have a vacation go to Syria?

GOLDBERG: Absolutely. Now, you know, we-

WALTERS: Some people go to the Hamptons. Some people, you know, take a vacation in North-

JOY BEHAR: How are Syrians to Jewish Americans these days?

WALTERS: Okay, well let me- Syria is, is an amazing country. It is not at all what I expected.

ELISABETH HASSELBECK: Did you think, did you have apprehension before you left?

WALTERS: Everybody said to me “are you going to be afraid?” “Will you walk the streets?” I’ve never felt safer.

SHEPHERD: You had a body guard?

WALTERS: I had no body guard. No, I’m serious. I had no body guard. I went everywhere. It is, let me-

GOLDBERG: So where does this misconception come from that Syria’s an issue?

WALTERS: Well, first of all the country is on our terrorist list. They are against the war in Iraq, the president of Syria, who’s name is Bashir al-Assad. I’ll tell you more about him in a minute. They objected to the war in Iraq. And they are neighbors and friends of Iran. The enemy of my enemy is my enemy or whatever- the friend of my enemy is my enemy. And they are friendly with both Hamas and Hezbollah who are two groups that we consider unfriendly groups in Israel. So in other words, they have friends who are not friends of ours. They have also been accused of allowing people and terrorists to cross the border into Iraq. They say they do not do that and they haven’t and they’ve really cut down on it. They have a million and a quarter Iraqi refugees in their country whom they have to take care of. Okay, that’s the political. They want very much to have good relations with us. Let me just, before I talk about the country because I just mentioned them, show you the young president and a picture of them because we had a very long lunch together. Now-

GOLDBERG: They look like they should be in the Hamptons.

WALTERS: Let me tell you, he, Assad, was the- his father- was for many many years the dominant ruler in, in Syria. Henry Kissinger used to go over and negotiate. This is his son Bashir Assad. People said, “oh he’s just a puppet.” From my experience, he was a very intelligent, a well informed, thoughtful, he spoke perfect English, wants very much to have relations with this country, has some solutions for ending the war in Iraq. She was educated in England, worked in this country, speaks English the way I’m talking to you, lovely, intelligent. I don’t want you to say- people say “oh you’re brainwashed.” But that was not it. They just were very charming and intelligent. She has a cooperative, a group teaching children to be entrepreneurs with Harvard University, was raised in England, worked in this country. So this is not what we expected in terms of the leaders.

[…]

WALTERS: They have total freedom of religion because it’s a Christian, Muslim, there are not very many Jews there. Remember, they had the whole situation with the Golan Heights, which I visited, which is a section occupied now by Israel, which the Syrians want back and there are discussions now to try to get it back. Look, there are still things, it is considered a dictatorship, we still do not know what they’re relationship is with Iran, there are other problems I’m not saying that this is, you know the perfect place. What I am saying is we need to know more about it and more about its leaders and have more conversation.

[…]

WALTERS: Okay, so I’ll just tell you real quickly how it happened. I had dinner one night with the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. Most of the ambassadors to the United Nations, I think they all sort of see each other. They don’t move around. This is a very impressive man, invited me to dinner one night, and then, and with a charming wife, fine, and then said- that’s neither here nor there- and then said “would you like to come to Syria?” I’ve been there once before to meet Mrs. Assad. I had been there several years ago. And he said they would be very happy to meet with you if you wanted to meet with them. So on my own, this had nothing to do with ABC, I went with a friend and thought “you know what? It’s either South Hampton or Damascus.” South Hampton, Damascus, South Hampton, Damascus.

GOLDBERG: And it’s with the same people.

[…]

WALTERS: I left my headline for the end, which is “The View” is seen everyday in Syria. Everyone knew us!

BEHAR: We love your scarves. We love your scarves!

[applause]

[…]

WALTERS: But I do want to say before they say “oh yeah she goes over and she meets the president.” We have problems. We do not like the fact that they support Hamas and Hezbollah. Without giving you a history lesson, these are organizations that want the destruction of Israel. They are friends with Iran and Ahmadinejad. This is a man who wants the destruction and have Israel erased. Their feeling is-

BEHAR: Ahmadinejad does.

WALTERS: Ahmadinejad does. They’re feeling is these are our neighbors, you have to have relations, et cetera. They lost the war in 1948.

BEHAR: They are for diplomacy, which is what Barack Obama’s preaching.

WALTERS: Yes, they are for diplomacy.

—Justin McCarthy is a news analyst at Media Research Center.

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July 8th, 2008, 2:16 am

 

10. Qifa Nabki said:

Wow… that’s kind of an embarassing interview. “Bashir Assad”?! And, Hamas/Hizbullah are considered “unfriendly” in Israel??

The Zionist media is going to eat her for lunch.

Nour,

The “delay” is about the LF nursing its wounds. Although, I do think it is a little bit disingenuous to talk about “the disagreements within M14 that are delaying the formation of the government,” when the government essentially had to sit on its hands and wait for al-General to throw a 5 WEEK long pity party that got him nowhere.

Geagea wants a bone. They’ll probably throw him something. I’m hoping he gets the Justice Ministry, just so that the farce is complete.

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July 8th, 2008, 2:41 am

 

11. trustquest said:

GOLDBERG: They look like they should be in the Hamptons.

I agree!

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July 8th, 2008, 3:18 am

 

12. Nour said:

QN,

This is the essence of your bias. I would be willing to bet that had it been the other way around, and let’s say Geagea agreed with the opposition over certain ministries after a 5-week process, only to be followed by an objection from Aoun, you would be all over Aoun, attacking him for just wanting to hinder the entire procedure. Would I be wrong?

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July 8th, 2008, 3:20 am

 

13. Qifa Nabki said:

Nour

Yes, you would be wrong. 🙂

I’m on record criticizing the M14ers when they’ve made stupid and cynical moves. For example, I’m totally opposed to Saniora leading the new cabinet. I thought M14 wasted many months with their refusal to give the opposition a veto. And I do think that Saad al-Hariri has no business being in politics.

Come on, Nour, Aoun’s behavior during the past five weeks has been totally embarrassing, even to his allies. First his insistence on the sovereign ministry (which pissed off Berri). Then his attempt to curtail the powers of the PM (which pissed off even the old stalwarts like Hoss and Karami). Even the opposition-friendly outlets (like al-Akhbar) were carrying reports about Hizbullah and AMAL being none too pleased with his demands.

The guy has a Napoleon complex, and baddo yrabbi7na jmeeleh because a different General Michel got to be president instead of him.

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July 8th, 2008, 4:16 am

 

14. Karim said:

If they love so much ‘Bashir’ Asad we would be glad to send him to Tel Aviv in exchange of freedom for the tolerant and civilized people of Syria.After Morroco , Egypt…..Sudan is very close to rise above us in their GDP /Capita.30 years ago we were ahead of SOUTH KOREA(yes South ,the country of Samsung and LG) …In the field of Human right and human dignity …no need a lot of words….the reality is known for all.

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July 8th, 2008, 4:36 am

 

15. Enlightened said:

I am Back after a little hiatus:

1. Lets see if if the Syrian Authorities can capitalise on the Jail riot and turn it into another famous Syrian Soapie in Time for Ramadan: “Prison Break” Syrian Style, Il help market the film.

2.Bashar goes To Paris to celebrate Bastille day as guest of Honour ( The prodigal Syrian Son returns to Mother France’s embrace after being a “good Boy” (enlightened wipes away tears from emotion and relief)

3. The Israeli/Hezbollah prisoner swap. Hezbollah gets back a child killer, a few captives, dead bodies and possibly the Shebaa in the future. Israel gets back its two soldiers , information on Arad. (Enlightened is not being callous here but will invite Sayed Hassan to be his partner in his next game of Arbahmiyeh. (400)

4. Syria Looks East, now that it has secured its interests in the West! (Lebanon) its feuding cousins next door will not turn the mountains into a Hatfield and MaCoy feud.

5. The IAE investigating team concludes that the bombed Syrian reactor was really a Hummus factory and a Zionist plot is uncovered to saturate the Syrian market with Zionist Hummus. (enlightened asks shai to send him some to Australia to taste)

6. Syrian/Isreali negotiation over the Golan reach another stumbling block. Isreali negotiators tell the Syrians its the Israeli version of the Hamptons and they don’t want to give it up.

7. Syrian Private Universities ask for Book donations, after a 6 year vetting process for approval by the Baath Party.

8. More Iran, and Iran, and again Iran, Iran oh hell GWB just bomb the place and put us all out of our collective misery.

9. The price of Oil, Gas, wheat, everything is going up and up and up, and up, and up ( enlightened feeling nauseus, will come back tomorrow)

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July 8th, 2008, 6:17 am

 

16. Karim said:

Why discuss: in Iran for example as Iraq is a private hunting ground for the USA

Iran is already full of french companies ….they have transferred their old car factories of Peugeot and Citroen to Iran ,Total has a big share in the oil industry.Dont forget that Khomaini was under the protection of France before his return to Iran.
Why discuss ,are you marxist ?

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July 8th, 2008, 6:38 am

 

17. why-discuss said:

QN

Come on, Nour, Aoun’s behavior during the past five weeks has been totally embarrassing, even to his allies.

Embarrassing or not he got results which are infuriating Geagea and the other “has been” christians leaders eaten by jealousy. Geagea has been ironizing, disparaging Aoun and he got a deaf ear. Now he is showing “magnanimity” in offering to renounce any ministry, “for the sake of Unity” . If Aoun is a Napoleon at least he is expanding the power of reasonable christians while Geagea and the other maronites leaders, especially the pathetic Dory Chamoun, torn by their jealousy and impotence have brought only divisions and frustrations.
Aoun is a stubborn old men, Churchill was the same. What counts are results, and we are seeing them. The formal agreement with Hezbollah was one of the most brilliant and constructive move in Lebanon in recent political history and that it is starting to show positive results. In the meantime, the loose and pompous “agreement” between the 14 mars people is showing cracks, despite their denials. Thank God there is now an arbiter, Sleiman, and Siniora is starting to improve his performance to become an acceptable PM. He was the right choice to assure some sort of continuity when the whole 14 march movement is collapsing.

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July 8th, 2008, 1:25 pm

 

18. why-discuss said:

Karim

It is true that France has investments in car factories in Iran, but their involvement on other industries and imports is minimal especially Gas, Oil, Nuclear. The big oil US companies are agressively invading Iraq (starting with Kurdistan) and the special relationship with the US will prevent any other country to touch these huge ressources. France had very big industrial investments in Iraq during Saddam (Osirak was french), now they won’t get any significant business there..
Iran represents a major business opportunity for France, and Sarkozy, very business oriented, will take any chance to put his hands on it before the US change its mind. I see his flirting with Bashar, among other motivations, as a way to use Syria as a bridge to Iran.
No, I am not marxist 🙂

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July 8th, 2008, 1:47 pm

 

19. Qifa Nabki said:

Why-Discuss

Are you in Lebanon?

If so, we should get together when I am next in Beirut.

I can’t put my finger on you yet. 🙂

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July 8th, 2008, 4:42 pm

 

20. Nour said:

QN,

I’m not trying to defend Aoun, but I’m showing that hindrances in government formation are caused by many factors. And each one can be explained in any number of ways. Aoun’s insistence on what you termed “embarassing” behavior could be interpreted as merely an attempt to get the best deal possible. He was upping the ante, not with the expectation of gaining what he was initially demanding, but in an effort to secure positions that would not have otherwise been granted to him. However, you chose to give it a more negative interpretation, charging that Aoun has a Napoleonic complex. On the other hand, when Geagea began throwing a hissy fit, you didn’t see that as “embarrassing” or demonstrative of a “napoleonic” complex. Rather, you gave it a more rational explanation, in that Geagea was trying to save a little face.

Again, I’m not trying to defend Aoun or to attack your position, but I believe you have specific biases, specifically with respect to Aoun, for whom you have previously declared you have “extreme distaste.” In any regard, I do believe the whole process is a farce and I stick to my position that unless the entire Lebanese system is changed, we can expect to witness recurring political stalemates and conflicts on the ground.

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July 8th, 2008, 5:32 pm

 

21. Qifa Nabki said:

Nour,

Ok. Guilty as charged.

🙂

What do you want from me? If it makes you feel any better, I can’t stand Geagea either. I can count the politicians I respect on one hand. Aoun gets more tongue-lashings from me (and who am I anyway, and who cares what I think?) because he could have been Lebanon’s Obama (as IDAF and I agreed, when we were having coffee last week).

That’s it.

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July 8th, 2008, 6:16 pm

 

22. why-discuss said:

QN

I am happy about that, as I dislike having anyone put me in a box..

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July 8th, 2008, 6:56 pm

 

23. Nour said:

QN,

I was actually laughing reading your post, but fair enough ;-). Again, I just hope to see a day where Lebanon is not run by a group of circus freaks.

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July 8th, 2008, 8:33 pm

 

24. Naji said:

QN,
“Aoun gets more tongue-lashings from me … because he could have been Lebanon’s Obama”

Ha… I cought you… 😉

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July 8th, 2008, 8:54 pm

 

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