Monday, June 23, 2003

# Posted 11:33 AM by Patrick Belton  

BASHAR ON IRAQIS IN SYRIA AND THE PEACE PROCESS: Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad gave a recent interview on Al-Arabiyya. Some highlights:

On not cooperating with the US about Iraqi ex-officials from the Saddam regime presently in Syria: "One official entered Syria under a false name, but not from Iraq - from another country. We learned about him from the Americans, who asked that we extradite him, but we refused. I think he was captured later in Iraq. We did not turn over, and will not turn over, anyone to the Americans. There may be [Iraqi officials in Syria that we are unaware of]. Anything is possible. It's impossible to stop the movement of goods and people between the countries. [If we capture any of them], we'll send them back to Iraq. We won't do anything to them. We won't turn them over to anyone."

On Syria's non-cooperation with the peace process: "They (the U.S.) did not require Syria's presence, because Syria is irrelevant to the issue and because we do not agree to the proposals..."

On Syria's supposed benevolence toward the Palestinian people: "When we adopt the [Palestinian] problem, we do it in accordance with the desire of the Palestinian citizen, whose problem it is. We cannot agree to anything that contradicts it, even if we believe in it, and we cannot oppose anything the Palestinian citizen believes in."

Incidentally, the last point belies one of the unstated cruelties of the Arab world: Arab governments' treatment of their Palestinian refugees. Of the 3.5 million UNRWA-registered refugees in Arab countries, only the 1.5 million in Jordan are granted the basic rights of citizenship of the nation in which they reside. This act of humanity is particularly striking for Jordan, a country which is beset by a simmering question of competing Jordanian and Palestinian identities given the fact that Palestinians have come to constitute 60 percent of the Jordanian population. The 373,000 stateless Palestinians living in Lebanon are not allowed to attend public school, own property, or even improve their housing stock. The Lebanese government is even planning to revoke citizenship rights to Palestinians who were granted Lebanese citizenship in 1994. Marginalization of Palestinian refugees in the Arab world does nothing to diminish radicalism or improve the lot of a people whose human suffering has been great. Arab countries are quite happy to treat them as pawns, to clothe themselves in the symbolic legitimacy of their cause while acting in quite atrocious ways to the actual Palestinians, who often live (as in Lebanon) in refugee camps where they face horrific public health, minimal prospects of education or employment, and are instead maintained in as much of a marginalized status as possible to augment their stateless status and maintain pressure on Israel. If Arab governments were only as good as their people, they might remember with the Palestinians the meaning of the phrase "Ahlan wa Sahlan" - "When you cross our threshold you are one of our family, and you have stepped on even ground."
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