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ARAB AFFAIRS - Dec 7 - Palestinian Leaders Urge Syria To Stay Out Of Elections.

The Palestinian leadership seeks Syrian reassurances that the country will not interfere in forthcoming elections to replace Yassir Arafat. During a two-day visit to Damascus by head of the PLO and official candidate of the Fatah movement in the elections Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians failed to lay to rest old animosities between the two sides. Palestinian anxieties over a possible split in the ruling Fatah movement have increased since Marwan Barghouti, popular leader of the intifada or uprising, announced his candidacy last week from his jail in Israel. A veteran Palestinian leader who is based in Damascus, Naif Hawatmeh, said Syria had influence over some of the factions inside Fatah whose members were likely to support Barghouti, such as the militant Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigades. Syria is faced with increasing isolation and international pressure over a range of regional issues. The US is still not satisfied with Syrian efforts to stop the flow of fighters and possibly financial support for insurgents across the border with Iraq. Elsewhere, the increasing pressure on Damascus is expressed in UN Security Council resolution 1559, adopted earlier this year, which calls for an end to Syrian control over Lebanon and for the disarming of Hezbollah. The growing prospect of a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will leave Syria even more isolated and with less leverage in its quest for the complete recovery of the occupied Golan Heights from Israel. "In the atmosphere around us internationally, the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations can be resumed before the Syrian-Israeli negotiations", said Hawatmeh, who in 1999 embraced the peace process. The Syrians may have to wait until "much later". Syria has been trying to pre-empt that by calling recently for the resumption of talks with Israel "without preconditions". One adviser to the Syrian FM, political analyst Riad Daoudi, linked the Palestinian issue directly to resolution 1559 and the future of the Golan Heights. The US and Israel, he said, were totally focused on the Jan 9 Palestinian elections in a conscious effort to "ignore the Syrian track". He called for co-ordination between the Palestinians and the Syrians. At a press conference in Damascus, after a meeting between Pres Bashar Assad and the Palestinian leadership, Syria's FM Farouk Shara'a, went even further, saying that co-ordination between the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon was a "demand" of all the Arab states. Abbas also said he wanted co-ordination but rebuked the Syrians indirectly when he said: A Palestinian dialogue has started internally and will continue internally". (Relations between the mainstream Fatah movement and the Syrian government have been strained since Damascus supported rebels inside the movement in the early 1980s. They did not improve when the Palestinians signed the Oslo interim peace agreements with Israel in 1993, without co-ordination with the Arab states. Syria has been a haven for Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process, including the militant Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements. These groups are a concern for a new Palestinian leadership that wants to restore calm in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and resume peace talks with Israel). During the visit to Damascus, Abbas met political leader of Hamas Khaled Meshaal. A Hamas source said the visit yielded little agreement and the elections for the leadership of the PA were not even discussed. The looming split inside Fatah seems to be more of an immediate concern to Abbas. Opinion polls now show him in a dead heat with Barghouti.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Dec 11, 2004
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