- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2001

AMMAN Israeli society is "more racist than the Nazis," President Bashar Assad of Syria said at the opening of the Arab summit meeting in Amman yesterday.

In a speech designed to claim the leadership of the hard-liners, Mr. Assad scorned Arab moderates for suggesting that they should suspend judgment on Ariel Sharon, the new Israeli prime minister, and "give him a chance."

"Sharon is described in the world as a man of massacres, a killer and a man who hates Arabs, but Sharon did not come to power through his will but through the will of the Israeli street," said Mr. Assad, a London-trained ophthalmologist and avowed modernizer.

Mr. Assad, who took over as president on the death of his father last year, said the Arabs were wasting their time analyzing different Israeli governments.

Any Israeli prime minister who wanted to "give something to the Arabs" was either assassinated, as in the case of Yitzhak Rabin, or voted out, like Ehud Barak, who lost to Mr. Sharon in the election last month.

"How do they expect us to convince ourselves and our people that this Israeli street which elected a man like Sharon wants peace, or that it is not hostile to Arabs and Muslims?" Mr. Assad asked. "It is a racist society, a society more racist than the Nazis."

His comments seemed designed to demonstrate that he is just as uncompromising as his father, Hafez Assad.

He spoke after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned Israel for imposing "collective punishment" on the Palestinians but also suggested that Arabs should tone down their rhetoric against Israel.

Mr. Annan reminded the summit that Israel had a right to live within secure borders and said Arab criticism would be more constructive "if many Israelis did not believe that their existence was under threat."

Mr. Assad said the Israelis' sense of insecurity stemmed from the fact that they were living on Arab land. He said: "History is on our side. Every Israeli knows that he does not own this land. This is Arab land."

The meeting, called the Summit of Accord and Agreement, was organized by the Jordanians to try to put an end to the bitter disputes that have divided the Arab world since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. It is the first regular Arab summit for 11 years. They are supposed to be held every year.

Disputes remain just below the surface. Foreign ministers have spent three days trying to bridge the gap between Iraq and the Gulf states particularly Kuwait and Saudi Arabia which still regard Saddam Hussein as a threat.

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, set a measured tone, saying he was ready to resume peace talks with Israel immediately and condemning acts of terrorism in general terms. He did not mention the two bombings in Jerusalem yesterday.

Mr. Arafat is likely to get a promise of more than $40 million a month for the next six months to keep afloat his collapsing Palestinian Authority. Some Arab countries suspect he will misuse the money and are resisting his demands to transfer it directly to the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Arafat's aides said they would believe the promise of money when they saw the first check.

Only a tiny proportion of $1 billion promised by the Arab states in October has found its way to the Palestinian territories.

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