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Syrian Presiden Hafez Assad Dies

June 10, 2000

BEIRUT _ Syrian President Hafez Assad died today, a Lebanese doctor with close ties to the Assad family said. He was 69.

Another well-placed Lebanese source in Beirut also said Assad had died today.

Syrian television confirmed Assad’s death.

Assad never realized his dream of a united Arab front and a humiliated Israel, and the country he led was isolated and economically troubled. But Syria’s autocratic president for three decades never hinted he saw himself as a man defeated.

A case in point were on-again, off-again negotiations with archenemy Israel. Analysts had said the 1999 election of moderate Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was Assad’s last chance at a deal with the Jewish state to return the strategic Golan Heights captured in 1967, when Assad was defense minister.

When his army regained a slice of the Golan in 1973 fighting, Assad went himself to raise the Syrian flag there, demonstrating the area’s political importance. But Assad was not to be hurried or pressured in talks that resumed in December after a hiatus of nearly four years.

The negotiations were suspended in January when Syria insisted Israel commit to returning to prewar 1967 borders. Israel sought lines closer to the 1923 colonial border and insisted on retaining sovereignty over a strip of land also claimed by Syria along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a key water source.

A skillful and ruthless politician, Assad often succeeded by keeping both foes and friends guessing, reversing course suddenly when he saw an advantage.

Syria put aside enmity with the United States to join the U.S.-led coalition against his longtime rival Iraq during the 1990-1 Gulf crisis. Assad sent troops to help drive Iraq out of Kuwait, and later reaped diplomatic and financial benefits that included $2 billion from Saudi Arabia.

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