Plea to Hurd in Syria

THE HUMAN rights organisation Amnesty International has called on Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, to raise specific cases of human rights violations during his official visit to Syria which starts this evening, writes Charles Richards.

It is the first visit by a British foreign secretary since relations were cut off after Syria was implicated in the 1986 attempt to blow up an Israeli jumbo jet out of Heathrow. Since then, the Foreign Office has received what it calls a confidential account of the incident that it deems satisfactory.

Britain restored relations with Syria, not because it feels that President Hafez al-Assad has improved his country's human rights record, or renounced support for terrorist groups, but out of political expediency. It needed relations with Syria during the Gulf crisis, after Syria joined the US-led coalition against Iraq.

In London, Abu Ala, the key Palestinian figure in secret Oslo talks that led to the PLO- Israel accord, had meetings with the Foreign Office minister Douglas Hogg. He is seeking political support for the accord, which he received, and the underpinning of economic assistance, which is proving harder to solicit.