Syria hears Israeli Arab plea for a real peace

Confronted by what he regards as an Israeli government hell-bent on burying the "peace process", President Assad of Syria today takes the dramatic step of welcoming at least 50 Israeli Arabs to Damascus, seven of them members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. They were due to fly into Syria late last night on their Israeli passports for meetings with the president and with his foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa.

A delegation of Israeli Arabs briefly visited Syria in 1995 to express their condolences to President Assad after the death of his son, Basil, in a road accident, but today's visit allows the Syrian leader to show that he has political allies inside Israel itself - at the very moment when the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being denounced in the Damascus press as a warmonger who seeks only to destroy the foundations of the "peace process".

The Israeli Arabs, who are flying via Cairo since no direct air links exist between Syria and Israel, include members of the Israeli Labour Party, Meretz, the Democratic Front for Equality and Peace, a number of journalists and more than a dozen members of Islamist movements.

"They are against Netanyahu's policy in the occupied territories," Mr Mohamed Salman, the Syrian information minister, said yesterday. "They want to achieve a real peace with the Arab states and they asked to visit Syria to express their support for Syria's position and to tell the world that people can co-exist."

Syria regards Mr Netanyahu's refusal to withdraw Israeli troops from the occupied Golan Heights as an Israeli betrayal of the 1991 Madrid peace con- ference which was specifically founded on UN Security Council resolution 242 - which called for total Israeli withdrawal from all occupied lands in return for security of all states in the area.

In the past, Israel's Arabs were regarded by the rest of the Arab world with suspicion and sometimes outright hostility. For 18 years, they lived under harsh Israeli military law while being regarded elsewhere in the Middle East as little more than agents of Israel. That Syria's strict Baathist regime should welcome them now emphasises how their role has changed - and how important they have become to President Assad.

"The Palestinians who stuck to their land in 1948 continued their struggle and sacrificed thousands of martyrs to the national cause. That's why we in Syria open our doors to them, contrary to the former situation," Mr Salman said.

Indeed, little could the Israeli Arabs - hitherto heretics in the Palestinian world - ever have imagined checking in at the Damascus Meridien hotel for meetings with Israel's fiercest Arab critic and his foreign minister. Over four days they will also be visiting the tomb of Salahadin al-Ayoubi and the grave of Yousef el-Azmi, who led the doomed Syrian cavalry charge against French tanks at the battle of the Maysaloun Pass in 1920.

One can only imagine their thoughts when they are taken to the Najhah Martyrs' Cemetery in Damascus where thousands of Syrian military victims of the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars lie - all killed by the country whose passport the visitors now carry.

n Beirut - The killing of four more civilians, including a mother and her two children aged four and 10, brought the south Lebanon "ceasefire" to near-total collapse yesterday, as the Hizbollah fired at least 40 Katyusha rockets at Israel's occupation zone in revenge for the killing of five of their members by Israeli troops earlier in the week.

In the space of 12 hours yesterday, a militiaman in Israel's South Lebanon Army was killed by a Hizbollah bomb, while Israel's return fire killed a farmer. The mother and her children died in the bomb ambush in Merkaba. .

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own