Syria Warns Israel against 'Trickery' in Lebanon Pullout
Syria warned Israel Monday against any "trickery" when it withdraws from southern Lebanon in July, during a summit here between Presidents Hafez al-Assad of Syria and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara blamed Israel for blocking the peace talks during the first public appearance by Assad since a British weekly reported in late April that he could have just a few months to live.
Assad, who gave no statement to the press, moved slowly and appeared tired but showed no obvious sign of ill health and smiled at times when being welcomed here by the Egyptians.
"We will not accept any trickery in the implementation (of the Lebanon withdrawal)," Shara told a press conference while Assad and Mubarak met at the presidential palace in northern Cairo for more than two hours.
Shara said Syria had "legitimate fears" that Israel would not complete its withdrawal and use the pullout from the strip of southern Lebanon it has occupied for 22 years as a "means to threaten" the Lebanese.
He accused Israel of "fleeing from its duties" under the peace process and blamed the Jewish state for the deadlock in peace negotiations.
Shara made an attempt to calm fears about Assad's health, saying he was in "very good" condition, despite a Sunday Telegraph report that Assad had suffered a stroke last month leaving him weak with temporary double vision.
Middle East analysts fear that if Assad dies before Syria concludes a peace deal with Israel, his successor will not have the experience, legitimacy or authority to forge peace with the Jewish state.
Shara said Syria was serious about making peace.
"We say with all conviction the true way out of this unstable situation in the Middle East is peace," he said. "Who is obstructing ... the political peace process? It's clear it is Israel."
Israel and Syria resumed peace negotiations in December after a hiatus of nearly four years. But talks were suspended in January when Syria insisted Israel commit to returning to prewar 1967 borders.
Israel seeks lines closer to the 1923 colonial border, which would return most of the strategic Golan Heights to Syria. It insists on retaining sovereignty over the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a key water source. Syria consistently has said it wants peace but is in no hurry to make any deal that falls short of a full return of the Golan Heights.
Syria also fears Israel will use its Lebanon withdrawal to draw a new line under the peace process, without returning to Syria the Golan Heights which it seized in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
But during a three-way meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the Syrian desert city of Palmyra Thursday, Syria received assurances of support for its policy of calling for an overall peace settlement, to avoid it being isolated.
Shara reiterated Monday Damascus's backing for a strong UN role in southern Lebanon after the July pullout.
Such strong support for the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), expressed for the first time at the Palmyra meeting, was seen as likely to ease fears of continued violence in the area after the pullback.
Intermittent violence has flared in southern Lebanon since the collapse of peace talks in January between Israel and Syria and in the run-up to Israel's Lebanon withdrawal.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Mussa repeated at the press conference that Egypt would continue to insist on a "fast and complete withdrawal ... by land, sea and air."
Damascus is insisting on a total withdrawal by Israel both from southern Lebanon and its own occupied Golan Heights, which were seized from Syria in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Mussa said later that the foreign ministers of the Damascus Declaration -- which Syria, Egypt and the six oil-rich Gulf Arab states formed after the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq -- would meet in Cairo in the first week of June.
Assad and Shara later returned to Syria – (Agencies)
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