Syria asks militant Arabs to end fight with Israel

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The Independent Online
SYRIA IS asking militant Palestinian groups based in Damascus to cease armed activity against Israel and form political parties, members of the groups said yesterday.

They said the Syrian Vice-President, Abdel-Halim Khaddam, asked four Palestinian organisations, hitherto opposed to peace with Israel and reliant on Syrian support, to drop armed struggle.

If the report is confirmed it is further evidence that Syria is determined to do all it can to reach a peace agreement with Israel, which would lead to an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967.

None of the four groups mentioned as meeting Mr Khaddam in Damascus have been actively carrying out attacks on Israeli targets in recent years. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, militant Palestinian Islamic organisations,which have carried out guerrilla actions and suicide bomb attacks, did not attend the meeting.

An official of one of groupswas quoted as saying that Mr Khaddam was "frank" with the groups. He told them armed struggle from Syria and Lebanon is over, and they have to get used to confining their role to a political one. The official said Syria intended to make similar representations to Hizbollah, the Islamic Lebanese guerrilla group.

Hizbollah denied that Syria was changing its policy. Fadhi Sharoura, a spokesman for the Palestinian groups in Damascus, said: "This report is totally incorrect. Syria did not ask us to drop our weapons."

While it is likely that Syria is asking Palestinian militants in Damascus not to carry out attacks while it approaches talks with Israel, it is unlikely that it would ask Hizbollah to end its attacks, since the guerrillas' ability to inflict casualties on Israeli troops occupying south Lebanon is one of Syria's strongest cards in the upcoming negotiations.

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