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Saturday, August 7, 1999 Published at 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK

World: Middle East

Palestinian fury over Syrian insult

Palestinian activists demand the removal of Syrian defence minister

Thousands of Palestinians have demonstrated in Gaza City against what they say was an insulting personal attack on the honour of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, by a Syrian government minister.

Middle East
The demonstrators, some wearing balaclavas and holding machine guns, called for the removal of the Syrian Defence Minister, General Mustafa Tlass, for his remarks last week.

Correspondent Paul Adams: Protest far from spontaneous
General Tlass denounced Mr Arafat for making what he called concessions to Israel, and went on to describe him as "the son of 60,000 whores".

The demonstrators marched to their leader's headquarters in a show of support, waving banners and pictures of Mr Arafat.

[ image: Mr Arafat placates the crowd]
Mr Arafat placates the crowd
The Palestinian leader himself addressed the protesters, rejecting any suggestion that he had betrayed the Palestinian people, but reminding them of the need for Arab unity.

"We insist that we and Syria are in one trench, we and Egypt and Jordan are in one trench," he told the crowd.

The protest was organised by Mr Arafat's Fatah faction, which called earlier this week for the execution of Mr Tlass.

Barak confident over Syria 'formula'

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, has said he is confident that peace talks with Syria can be revived within weeks.

Mr Barak said on Israel Radio that what he called the proper formula would be found soon.

Talks between the two countries broke down three years ago, and there is still uncertainty over the central question of Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights.

Syria says Israel has agreed to hand them back and their fate should not be re-discussed. Israel says it did not agree to withdraw from the area and it wants talks with no pre-conditions.

Meanwhile, a commentary in an official Syrian newspaper Tishrin said Syria was still waiting for Prime Minister Barak's announcements to be backed up by deeds.

Correspondents say the comments reflect a growing sense of frustration among Arabs who had great hopes that Mr Barak's election would lead to a resumption of peace talks.

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