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>JN June 12, 2000, Vol. 8, No. 99
Fire Kills Satmar Rebbe's Family Members
A fire which broke out in a Brooklyn apartment over the Shavuot
holiday claimed the lives of the granddaughter and infant
great-granddaughter of the Satmar Rebbe. Sarah Blima Halberstam, 20
and her 5-month-old daughter, Chaya Esther, of Canada, died.
Halberstam, granddaughter of Grand Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, the
Satmar Rebbe, was visiting NYC for the holiday.
Assad's Son Nominated for President
By Lisa Bryant (VOA-Cairo)
The son of Syria's late president, Hafez al Assad, has been named
commander of the country's armed forces. The appointment follows
Bashar al-Assad's nomination as Syria's next leader.
A government spokesman said Bashar Assad's appointment followed his
promotion from colonel to lieutenant general by Syrian Vice
President Abdel-Halim Khaddam. The promotion is another sign that
Bashar Assad will succeed his father, who was the political and
military leader of Syria.
Along with Assad's nomination as Syria's next president by the
ruling Baath Party, the promotion appears to clear the way for a
transition of power from father to son. In a late night move,
Syria's parliament lowered the constitutional age for president
from 40 to 34 years -- the age of the younger Assad.
The parliament is likely to approve Assad's nomination for
president during an expected June 25 meeting. A public referendum
is also expected on Assad's candidacy.
President Assad's son is an eye doctor with little political
experience. But his father had been grooming Bashar Assad for the
presidency since Bashar's older brother died in 1994.
After 30 years of relative stability under the late Hafez al-Assad,
Syria now moves into a new and uncertain era. Little is known
about Bashar Assad. The man who trained and practiced as an eye
doctor in England, suddenly found himself being groomed for the
presidency in 1994, when his older brother, Basil, died in a car
crash. Like his father, Bashar Assad is a member of Syria's
Political experts believe that even if Bashar Assad becomes Syria's
next president, he will have to face a number of tests. He will
have to unify the Assad family - including President Assad's
brother and one-time rival - behind him. The younger Assad will
also have to win the support of Syria's Alawites, along with the
country's military and security branches.
Also unclear is the fate of Middle East peace negotiations. Peace
talks between Syria and Israel were suspended in January, after
President Assad held out for Israel's full withdrawal from the
Some scholars hope that a new leader in Syria will inject momentum
into the peace process. Tahsin Bashir, who served as spokesman to
the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, says the future of Syrian-
Israeli peace talks also depends on Israel's next move.
"The test of what Syria will do in the peace process will depend
more on Israel. If Israel is generous and willing to offer Bashar
a better deal than the meticulous, stringent conditions they asked
his father to do, he will be able to reach an accommodation and a
settlement with Syria."
If Bashar Assad comes to power, Syria will follow the footsteps of
Jordan and Morocco where, in the past year and a half, young,
Western-educated sons have assumed power. The leadership
transitions in both countries appear to have been remarkably
smooth. The new young monarchs have not strayed far from the
political paths set by their fathers.
Several Arab scholars say they do not expect immediate political
changes in Syria either, if Bashar Assad becomes president. But,
they and others are hoping the country's next leader will
ultimately craft a more modern and less repressive political system
than the one under President Assad.
Bashar Assad Faces Challenges
By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)
Israeli analysts predict a turbulent period ahead in Syria as
Bashar Assad, the expected heir to the Syrian presidency, faces
challenges to his leadership. Middle East experts believe Assad
will put peacemaking on hold as he attempts to consolidate his
position in Damascus. Israeli strategic analysts believe Bashar
Assad's accession to the presidency is practically guaranteed.
However, they say it cannot be taken for granted that he will
survive at the top as long as his father did. Hafez al-Assad ruled
the country with an iron grip for 30 years. In the 1980s, the late
Syrian president was the target of several attempted coups, which
he put down with a savage display of power.
An Israeli expert on Syria, Prof. Eyal Zisser, says Basher Assad
should expect to be similarly tested. The first sign of a possible
threat emerged Sunday with reports that Syrian security forces
in Lebanon have begun searching planes arriving from Europe
following intelligence reports that Rifaat Assad, President Assad's
younger brother, may try to enter Syria from Lebanon and attempt
to take control in Damascus.
Rifaat Assad's ambitions became clear as early as 1983, when he
attempted a military coup while President Assad was hospitalized
and recovering from a heart attack.
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