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Saturday, 10 June, 2000, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
Assad: Mourned by friends and foes
Clinton and Assad met in Geneva in March
Mr Clinton said he had always respected Mr Assad
Leaders in the Middle East and from around the world have been mourning the death of Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad.

The first foreign reaction to President Assad's death came from Syria's long-standing enemy, Israel.

The government in Jerusalem said it would strive to forge a peace agreement with his successor.

I announce to the Arab and Muslim world the death of one of the heroes of war and of peace, who devoted his life to serving the Arab and Islamic nations and fighting for the recovery of their land and of Arab rights

Arab League chief
The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who had long had strained relations with Mr Assad, expressed grief at the news and declared three days of official mourning in Palestinian-run areas.

And in the United States, President Clinton praised President Assad's commitment to the path of peace.

"We had our differences, but I always respected him," said Mr Clinton, who last met Mr Assad in March in an attempt to break the deadlock in peace talks with Israel.

Lebanon

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office said: "The government of Israel understands the grief of the Syrian people.

"Israel worked in the past for a peace deal with Syria and will continue to work for this in the future with all future leadership."

The statement from the Israeli prime minister's office also expressed the hope that calm would be maintained along the border with Syria and Lebanon, where Syria is considered the main power broker.

Israel withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon last month after an 18-year occupation.

"Israel views with importance quiet along the border, and it hopes Syria will also act accordingly," Mr Barak's office said.

Peace talks between Israel and Syria broke down in January.

In Lebanon, Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss described Mr Assad's death as a "terrible catastrophe" for Lebanon and ordered flags to fly at half-mast during a week of official mourning.

Neighbours and rivals

Across the region, television and radio stations cut into their transmissions to announce the Syrian leader's death, and then embarked on readings from the Koran as an expression of mourning.

In his statement, Mr Arafat said he shared the sorrow of Mr Assad's family. He said the Palestianian people would stand beside the people of Syria, "confident in their ability to overcome this fateful moment".

Relations between Mr Assad and Mr Arafat had been strained over the bases accorded in Damascus to factions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation opposed to peace with Israel.
President Assad in March in Geneva
No comment about Mr Assad's death from old foe, Iraq
In Turkey, which also had differences with Syria - over Kurdish rebels and water resources - Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said he shared the Syrian people's grief.

Mr Cem said that relations had recently improved, and the process would continue.

Iranian television described Mr Assad as "a great resistance fighter".

But in Iraq, ruled by a rival branch of the Baath party, state television reported the death without comment.

Unstinting praise

One of the last heads of state to meet President Assad was King Abdullah of Jordan, who praised the Syrian leader's "wisdom, courage and political experience" in a phone call to his son, Bashar.

But the most emotional of the early tributes came from the Arab League.

Secretary General Ismat Abd-al-Majid described Mr Assad as "one of the heroes of war and of peace who devoted his life to serving the Arab and Islamic nations and fighting for the recovery of their land and of Arab rights".

He said he hoped that "the Syrian people will pass through this crisis peacefully and overcome their pain to move forward on the road to development and peace".

Western reaction

In Moscow, foreign ministry officials said Russia was deeply saddened by the news. They said they hoped it would have no adverse effect on the Middle East peace process.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Mr Assad's contribution to the Middle East peace process and said he hoped his death would "redouble" efforts in the region to find lasting peace.

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine cancelled a scheduled Middle East tour after the announcement. He had been due to visit Syria, Israel and Lebanon.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Bryant in Washington
"There was a strong sense that (Assad) was genuinely committed to peace"
The BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins
on reaction in the US and Israel
Hanan Ashwari, Palesinian National Council Member
"He was trying gradually to open up Syria"
See also:

10 Jun 00 | Middle East
10 Jun 00 | Politics
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