Syrian peace `fatwa'

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The Independent Online
Syria's leading religious scholar yesterday issued an unprecedented fatwa backing peace with Israel.

Sheikh Muhammed Said Albouti gave his blessing to "a comprehensive peace with Israel, to be respected by rulers of Muslim countries". Replying to a question from the floor during one of his weekly lessons on Syria's state controlled television, he advised the nation to follow the steps of the Prophet Mohammed who signed peace treaties with the Jewish tribes of southern Arabia in the seventh century.

Although Sheikh Albouti wrapped his speech in the usual Syrian rhetoric of a comprehensive peace and the return of "the occupied Arab land", diplomats in Damascus indicate that it would have been unthinkable for the Sheikh even to dream of broaching the subject during his lessons without official approval.

An Arab diplomat said yesterday: "It it is obvious that Sheikh Albouti is a front for [President Hafez] al-Assad as he wants to prepare his people for the idea of reaching a peaceful settlement with Israel."

The Sheikh said the Koran comes before the ruler and the duty of Muslims is to support the ruler who adheres to the Koran. He criticised Muslim countries "who made deals with Israel without covering their action with a religious fatwa".