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>Israel Faxx
>JN June 12, 2000, Vol. 8, No. 99

Fire Kills Satmar Rebbe's Family Members

By IsraelWire

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 Alawite minority.

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 Golan Heights.

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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