Assad And Arafat Meet To End Split, Forge New Alliance
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ President Hafez Assad and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat met Monday, seeking to end five years of bloody rivalry and to revive a hardline alliance against Israel and a U.S. peace plan.
Presidential spokesman Jibrane Kourieh said the two key Arab leaders met for 3 1/2 hours in Assad’s Muhajirine palace and talked in particular about the Palestinian uprising in Israel and the need to support it.
″We all agreed that this is a rare opportunity ... that would lead to the restoration of warm relations between Syria and the PLO,″ Palestinian leader Nayef Hawatmeh said before the meeting.
It was the second time that Arafat and Assad have talked face-to-face since the Syrian president threw the PLO leader out of Syria in June 1983. They met briefly at the Arab summit in Amman, Jordan, in November.
If their talks are successful, it will mean the end of a rift that seriously hampered Arab efforts to unite in opposition to Israel.
Syria’s Foreign Minister, Farouk al-Sharaa and seven of Arafat’s senior aides - all members of the ruling central committee of Fatah, the main PLO guerrilla group - attended the meeting in the heavily guarded palace, the spokesman said.
Like Arafat, most of them had not visited Damascus since Arafat was expelled at the height of a Syrian-backed mutiny in the PLO.
Arafat’s aides arrived in Damascus last week for the funeral of the PLO’s military commander, Khalil Wazir, assassinated in Tunis, Tunisia, on April 16.
Israeli sources have said Wazir was killed by Israeli commandos, but the government has not confirmed it.
Arafat failed to show up for the funeral Wednesday and flew in Sunday from Libya after Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi and Algerian President Chadli Benjedid intervened.
Monday’s crucial session followed a meeting between Assad and a ranking Libyan envoy, Lt. Col. Mustafa Kharroubi, who accompanied Arafat from Tripoli to Damascus on Sunday. Officials released no details of that meeting.
Hawatmeh, who leads the Marxist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said that Arafat’s three-hour session with Palestinian leaders hammered out an agenda for the future.
Hawatmeh said the top priorities were the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the United States’ latest Middle East peace plan, presented to the region’s leaders last month by Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
″These are two very important developments, how to bolster the uprising and foil Shultz’s plan,″ Hawatmeh said.
Syria and the PLO have separately rejected Shultz’s proposal for limited Palestinian self-rule in the occupied territories. Both want an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
The peace plan also does not give the PLO a role in the peace process.
Arabs, however, regard the PLO as the sole representative of the world’s 5 million Palestinians.
Asked if it was not too early to talk of an alliance when Arafat has been in Damascus only 24 hours, Hawatmeh declared: ″The fact that he’s here means the feud is over.
″Now we have to move on to the next stage, reviving the strategic alliance.″
Libya and Algeria, along with Syria, the PLO and Marxist South Yemen, formed what was called the Arab Steadfastness Front after the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt signed the 1978 U.S.-brokered Camp David accord that led to a peace treaty with Israel a year later.
The anti-peace accord alliance fell apart when the Syria-PLO feud began.
The feud erupted after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.
Arafat at that time refused to set up headquarters in Damascus and began looking into the prospects of negotiating peace with Israel.
That angered Assad and PLO radicals, who advocated armed struggle against Israel.
In May 1983, the friction exploded into a battle between Arafat’s supporters and Syrian-backed hardliners seeking to oust the guerrilla chief from the PLO leadership.
Arab leaders have been trying to reconcile Assad and Arafat since the split but Wazir’s assassination accelerated the process. The 52-year-old native of Ramle, now in Israel, was respected by both Arafat loyalists and pro-Syrian dissidents.
He was said to be the mastermind of the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories and his death was a severe blow to the PLO, underscoring Israel’s military might.