07/26/2006, 00.00
SYRIA
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Absent from Rome, Syria views itself as key to unlock the Mideast problem

by Jihad Issa
For Damascus the failure of Secretary Rice's mission and that of the Rome conference are due to its exclusion. Syrian sources say the US is trying to induce it away from Iran.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – Syria may not have been invited to the Rome conference on the Lebanon crisis but its presence is being felt. Its leaders insist that it has an essential role to play in finding any solution to the Middle East question. Some European countries might even be trying to induce to induce it away from Tehran and get it to put pressure on Hezbollah and Hamas in exchange for the Golan Heights, which amounts to a proposal.

Syria's official news agency SANA has called US Secretary Condoleezza Rice's mission to the region a failure, and expects the same from the Rome conference. In its view a truce between Lebanon and Israel must start with a ceasefire and prisoners' exchange. And for this reason the Syrian government is willing to facilitate the dialogue but is also ready to come to Lebanon's aid should Israel invade its territory.

For the Syrians the failure of Rice's mission and probably that of the Rome conference are largely due to a desire to exclude Syria despite its extensive, albeit "moral" support to Hezbollah, Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told Spanish daily ABC.

For its part SANA criticised statements by some US officials who have downplayed Syria's role within the wider regional context to find a solution to the Mideast problem.

An anonymous Syrian government source said that the United States is however trying to draw Syria away from its alliance with Iran through Egypt and Saudi Arabia. According to the same source, Syrian authorities in Damascus have received proposals from some European and Arab countries to distance itself from Iran and exert positive pressure on Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestine's Hamas. In return Syria would become re-enter the process underway, which would include a promise to solve the problem of the Golan Heights, under Israeli occupation since 1967 and an invitation to sign a protocol of cooperation with Europe.

Syria however turned down the proposal because it "was not for sale".

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