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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Israel 'held back' report on Assad death
Israeli and Palestinian newspapers
Assad on all the front pages
As the Israeli press considers the repercussions of the death of Syrian Priesident Hafez al-Assad, one newspaper Yedi'ot Aharonot reported that the Israeli Government held back from disrupting the political transition in Damascus.

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak: 'Knew of Assad's death almost in real-time'
"Bashar al-Assad owes the critical hours of quiet before the reports on the death of his father broke in the media to the Israeli intelligence services and Prime Minister Ehud Barak," the paper wrote.

"Had Israel wanted to, it could have informed the international media about al-Assad's death - the reports on which reached Barak almost in real time - five hours earlier.

"That would have been dangerous for the designated heir, and would have denied him the necessary time to prepare for the new situation."

The paper said Bashar had used this time "discreetly but widely to deploy the Syrian intelligence apparatuses, the national guard, and the army around all the 'resistance pockets,' such as the Muslim Brotherhood and those loyal to his uncle, Rifaat al-Assad, from which violent opposition could be expected".

Bashar's decisions

Israeli newspapers have been speculating about the likely priorities of the incoming Syrian president.

The ultra-orthodox newspaper Hamodi'a said Israeli officials had been impressed with the speed and apparent smoothness of the initial transfer of power from Hafez al-Assad to his son Bashar.

Had Israel wanted to, it could have informed the international media about al-Assad's death

Yedi'ot Aharonot newspaper
The paper quoted senior intelligence officials as saying that Bashar would "initially adopt hard-line policies and issue tough statements".

But the unnamed officials predicted that if he managed to secure his domestic position and consolidate his new government, Bashar would be "far more businesslike and pragmatic than the late president".

They said they thought that the new president might withdraw some military forces from Lebanon in order to deploy them around Damascus to help secure his position.

'Reassurance' from Barak

Israel is reported not to have taken any military steps in the wake of President al-Assad's death, although senior military officers said intelligence observation of Syria and Lebanon had been stepped up.

The independent liberal newspaper Ha'aretz said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had sent a "message of reassurance" to Damascus, saying that Israel had no intention of using the transition period to increase tension in the region.

Golan Heights
On watch from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
The message was sent through Washington, Amman, and Cairo in telephone conversations Mr Barak held with the heads of state in all three capitals.

He asked Israeli ministers to refrain from commenting publicly on the transition of power in case their comments had "a disruptive influence on Damascus," Ha'aretz said.

Despite this, Interior Minister Natan Sharansky said Assad's death had ended a 30-year dictatorship "reminiscent of Communist leader Josef Stalin's reign".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

11 Jun 00 | Middle East
11 Jun 00 | Media reports
11 Jun 00 | Middle East
10 Jun 00 | Middle East
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