Syria's President Pledges to Fight Terrorism
Syrian President Bashar al- Assad is scheduled to meet with Pope John Paul II on Thursday, as part of al-Assad's first visit to the West since the September 11 attacks in the United States.
On Wednesday, the Syrian President pledged to support the campaign against terrorism, however, warned that a complete victory would be impossible.
"Terrorism is like corruption, omnipresent in human society," al-Assad said during a meeting with the Mayor of Rome, "We can fight against them, but we should be aware that some things will always be left unresolved," he added.
Afterwards, he met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and was expected to encourage Europe to play a bigger role in resolving the Middle East conflict.
Al-Assad, who arrived in Rome on Tuesday with a 160-strong delegation, is eager to advance Syria as a moderate force and as an example of how best to combat terrorism.
However, small crowds of demonstrators have dogged his visit, accusing him of supporting Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which the United States and Israeli governments have labeled as terrorists.
As Assad left the Rome city headquarters, protesters threw themselves in front of his car, blocking its path with banners, and had to be forced away by police.
"It is unacceptable that in the name of a holy alliance against terror, dictatorial regimes like that of Damascus should be legitimized," said Sergio D'Elia of the anti-death penalty group, Hands Off Cain. "On the one hand Syria says it wants to fight terror and on the other it finances terrorism," he expressed.
Al-Assad blames Israel for the Middle East violence, saying movements like Hizbullah are waging legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation of Arab land.
By contrast, al-Assad says that Syria's battle with Islamists, which culminated in the bloody suppression of a 1982 uprising, is proof of his country's commitment to defeating extremism.
"Our historical patrimony testifies to our willingness to work with others and represents a negation of terrorism," he told Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, pointing back to the time when the Roman Empire stretched into the Syrian Desert.
"Is it possible that 2,000 years ago our forefathers were better than us," he said, describing the Roman Empire as a golden era of cooperation around the Mediterranean.
Italy is seeking to strengthen relations between Mediterranean countries, while Berlusconi himself is eager to play a bigger role in the region, putting forward plans to assist in relieving Palestinian poverty with a major economic package.
Meanwhile, underlining Rome's interest in the region, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri arrived in Italy on Wednesday for a two-day visit. Diplomats said there was no connection with Assad's visit, but added that the two men might meet. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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