Syria’s Assad Says Comments About Israel Were ‘Misunderstood’
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad on Tuesday sought to clear up an alleged "misunderstanding" over remarks he made to Pope John Paul II that have been widely regarded as anti-Semitic, said reports.
Assad, on a three-day state visit to France, told lawmakers at the National Assembly that his comments were not aimed at Jews in general but only at Israel, the Associated Press quoted him as saying.
Assad last month told Pope John Paul II that the Israelis "tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Muhammad."
He charged that the media distorted his comments, said the AP.
"I was talking about Israelis, not Jews," Assad said. "When I say Israel carries out killings, it's the reality: Israel tortures Palestinians. I didn't speak about Jews."
When Assad arrived in France on Monday, about 6,000 protesters marched through southwestern Paris carrying placards reading "Heil Assad."
On Tuesday, three Paris city councilors were ejected from City Hall after trying to disrupt a speech by Assad with signs that read "Assad anti-Semite."
Politicians and human rights groups have criticized the government's decision to grant Assad all the courtesies of a full state visit, the highest diplomatic welcome.
After meeting on Monday with French President Jacques Chirac, Assad spoke Tuesday to French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his country's relations with Lebanon and sanctions in Iraq.
The president said that the countries of the Middle East were trying to keep the situation in control, but warned that the peace process begun in Madrid in 1991 had stalled because of Israel's failure to respect its terms.
At the town hall, one of the councilors shouted out, "Don't forget the blood of our ambassador, don't forget Drakkar," before they were escorted out by ushers. The president remained impassive throughout.
The outburst was a reference to allegations that Syria was behind the murder of the French ambassador to Lebanon Louis Delamarre in 1981, and blew up the Drakkar building there two years later, killing 58 French soldiers.
Earlier, Delanoe delivered a diplomatically worded rebuke to the president, dwelling at length on the evils of anti-Semitism.
"I condemn without respite, without silence, anything which damages human dignity whatever the form it takes, and from wherever it comes: racism, anti-Semitism, exclusion and the denial of history," Delanoe said, cited by AFP.
"Death, hate, blindness, the terrorism which strikes implacably like it did a short time ago in Tel Aviv are all denials of the historic values which have inspired our peoples through the ages," he said – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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