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Syria Urges Barak To Stand Firm

March 2, 2000

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ Syria today urged Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to stand firm after his rightist opposition won preliminary approval of a bill that placed obstacles in front of a possible peace treaty between the two countries.

Al-Baath, the newspaper of Syria’s ruling party, said Barak must not be swayed by ``racist and rancorous hotheads″ in Israel. If the prime minister is hesitant, the bill ``might be the first nail in the coffin of the Barak government and a prelude for its collapse.″

By a vote of 60 to 53 Wednesday, Israel’s parliament gave preliminary approval to an opposition bill that would effectively require the approval of some two-thirds _ rather than a simple majority _ of those voting in a national referendum for a peace deal with Syria to go through.

Barak’s Cabinet ministers pledged to bury the bill in committee.

Progress toward an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty has been stalled since January after Syria insisted on assurances that Israel would withdraw from the Golan Heights, while Israel refused to make such a pledge before issues such as security arrangements were spelled out.

Al-Baath said today that Barak ``could have spared such severe conflict in the Knesset had he had enough courage since being elected prime minister to acknowledge the Rabin pledge.″

Syria has long insisted that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin pledged to return the Golan before his 1995 assassination. Israel seized the strategic plateau from Syria in a 1967 war.

Barak told his Cabinet on Sunday that Rabin as well as three other Israeli previous prime ministers effectively agreed to withdraw from the Golan if certain conditions were fulfilled.

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