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Yearbook 1997

Syria. According to Countryaah, the talks with Israel on peace and on the Golan Heights had been in effect since February 1996. In July, Israel took steps to enact legislation that would consolidate the annexation of the Golan Heights, but at the same time came reports that the Israeli military was investigating how it could defend northern Israel without Golan. In addition, the Syrian leadership had contacts with the Israeli opposition within the Labor Party Israel Labor Party, which before it lost government power in 1996 had, in principle, promised to return the Golan in exchange for a peace agreement.

During the year, speculation was raised about who will succeed President Hafiz al-Asad (born 1928) when he dies. He had heart problems and underwent a prostate surgery in January. Since his son Basil died in a car accident in 1994, al-Asad lacks an obvious successor but tried to launch his second son, 33-year-old Bashar. However, he was said to have no power base in both the ruling Baath party and the military. The Syrian constitution also states that the president must be over 40 years. Most people, therefore, expect the current Vice President Abd al-Halim Khaddam to take over at al-Asad's possible departure.

1997 Syria

In 1999, Al-Assad was re-elected to his 7th term of office for 5 years. During one of his election speeches, the aging president declared that the government needed "new blood" to carry out the economic reforms.

In December, peace talks with Israel were resumed in Washington, but they were postponed indefinitely in January, when Syria could not guarantee that Israel would withdraw from the occupied territories in 1967 - primarily the Golan Heights.

In March 2000, all 37 members of Mahmoud el-Zouebi's government submitted their resignation to the president. Instead, the old leader of the Baath party, Mohamed Mustafa Miro, was deployed as prime minister. He had been governor of Alleppo province until then.

On June 10, Assad died, leaving the country in mourning. He was the only president most of the population had experienced. The political maneuvers were quickly initiated in order for Assad's only son, Bashar al-Assad to take over his father's post. He was first appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and assumed the post of President in July.

In April 2001, the new president approved the creation of private banks, and he also approved the creation of a private radio station, albeit only broadcast music, and without political content.

The Pope visited Syria in May and at the welcome ceremony al-Assad took the opportunity to launch a violent attack against Israel, comparing the suffering of the Palestinians with the persecution of Jesus. He also asked the pope to remember to include the people of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Palestine in his sermons. In his response, the Pope urged all parties to seek lasting peace and to build understanding and respect between Christians, Muslims and Jews.

In October 2001, with the support of the Asian and African countries, Syria gained a seat on the UN Security Council. Neither opposition from Israel nor 38 North American congressmen who urged President Bush to oppose Syria's representation succeeded. The United States was bound because, in the wake of the New York attack, it sought support from the most influential Arab countries in its global anti-terrorist struggle.

Syria's foreign policy was rapidly changing in 2001. Following intense pressure from the Lebanese government, Syria removed its troops from the Beirut area and withdrew them to other parts of the country. In August, Syrian Prime Minister Miro visited Iraq during the first high-level visit in nearly 20 years after Syria supported Iran during the Iraqi-Iranian war of 1980-88. In November, British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Damuskus in an effort to secure Syrian support for the US global war on terror. Yet Blair and al-Assad were unable to come up with a common definition of the concept of terrorism, the British leader having to return home without concrete results.

In November, several dozen political prisoners from the Muslim Brotherhood were released after spending more than 20 years in prison. The release was characterized by Amnesty International as "an important step towards respect for human rights in Syria". Nearly all the released had been held in solitary confinement during their prison time, subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

In April 2002, a Syrian radar station in Lebanon was attacked by Israeli aircraft following a partisan attack by Hezbollah. It sparked fears of a military escalation, but Israeli aggression remained unanswered on the Syrian side.

In May, North American Deputy Foreign Minister John Bolton included Syria on the axis of evil. He also accused Damascus of trying to procure weapons of mass destruction. In April 2003, a month after the start of the US war on Iraq, the United States threatened Syria with economic and diplomatic sanctions, accusing the country of hosting Iraqi refugees. The Syrian government rejected US accusations.


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