(AFP, DAMASCUS) - Syria's new President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday decided to share needed water resources with Jordan by giving the parched kingdom a supply of drinking water, officials said.
Bashar made the gesture at the end of an official visit to Damascus by Jordan's King Abdullah II during which the two leaders renewed their support for lasting peace in the Middle East and Arab unity.
"The president accepted to supply water to Jordan, in coordination between the concerned authorities in the two countries," Bashar's spokesman Jibran Kuriyeh said.
There was no immediate indication how much water Syria will give Jordan nor when it will begin to pump the precious liquid.
But this gesture of solidarity comes at a time when Syria is facing, for the second consecutive year, drastic water cuts exacerbated by a drought and heat wave that have decimated its own food production and cattle herds.
In May 1999 Syria gave Jordan eight million cubic meters of drinking water from the Sahm al-Golan dam in southwestern Syria to help the kingdom overcome its water shortages.
Abdullah, accompanied by Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb and other senior officials, paid a brief visit to Damascus to congratulate Bashar on his rise to the presidency following the death of his father Hafez al-Assad on June 10.
Jordan's official Petra news agency said the two leaders, both of whom are in their 30s, discussed the Arab-Israel peace process, Arab unity and building stronger trade ties.
"The two leaders stressed their support for all efforts undertaken to push forward the peace process to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace that would restore all the legitimate rights to their owners," Petra said.
Abdullah renewed Jordan's "support and help for Syria's just demand to recover its occupied territories in line with international legislation," Petra said in reference to the Golan Heights.
They likewise "insisted on the need to back and bolster Arab solidarity and to push for common Arab work for the interest and future of the (Arab) nation," Petra said.
It also quoted Abdullah as saying, in a departure message to Bashar, "I was very happy to sense during our meeting your real concern for strengthening brotherly relations between our two countries."
Kuriyeh said the two leaders discussed Arab and regional issues as well as ways to bolster economic bonds and trade exchanges and agreed to convene very soon a bilateral commission in the near future.
In August, Syria and Jordan signed several economic accords to bolster trade ties, including a deal to scrap taxation on 200 consumer goods.
According to official estimates Jordan's exports to Syria fell to 21.3 million dollars in 1998 from 35.9 million dollars in 1997. Imports were almost halved from 82.2 million dollars in 1997 to 42.9 million dollars in 1999.
The two countries are also expected to go ahead with plans to build the Al-Wahdeh Dam on the Yarmuk River to help develop their meager water resources.
The dam, expected to cost 420 million dollars, had been agreed upon in 1987 but was put on the backburner after Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
Bashar took the oath of office for a seven-year term on Monday pledging to pursue Assad's no-compromise policies towards Israel to recover the Golan Heights, a plateau rich in water resources lost during the 1967 war.
Relations between Jordan and its northern neighbours have warmed up since Abdullah succeeded his later father King Hussein in February 1999.
By Roueida Mabardi
Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )