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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Syria committed 'massacres' in Lebanon: Egypt press

CAIRO (AFP) - Egypt state media have accused Syria of committing "massacres" in Lebanon, lashing out at Damascus in response to President Bashar al-Assad's recent criticism of Egypt.

In an editorial addressed to the Syrian ambassador in Cairo Wednesday, the Egyptian government daily Al-Gumhuriya said "the Egyptian army has done much to save you over the course of history.

"While your heroic army, protector of the homeland, has a weighty record of Lebanese massacres... and you have killed thousands of your citizens in Hama and Aleppo when they rose up against the regime of father Assad," it said.

Former president Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar, had unleashed a violent suppression of an Islamist uprising in the two Syrian towns in the 1980s, killing thousands.

Political tensions between Syria and Egypt began to rise when Assad criticized Arab leaders who had rebuked Hezbollah, the Shiite fundamentalist group which is backed by Damascus and Tehran, during a speech on August 15.

Assad said the war between Hezbollah and
Israel "has exposed the Arab situation entirely ... because it has downed the people of half positions, or the half men, and brought down all the tardy positions."

The Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper had recalled mockingly that since the 1967 Middle East war in which Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel, "the capital of the resistance has not fired a single shot" at its bitter foe.

Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia had criticized Hezbollah's "adventurism" after the group's capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12, which sparked a month-long Israeli offensive in Lebanon.

Al-Gumhuriya's editorial took another swipe at Bashar al-Assad Wednesday, alleging that the president -- an ophthalmology student in London before his brother's death forced him to return to Damascus -- had no military legitimacy.

Assad "donned his military clothes only when he was promoted inside the (Baath) party in order to acquire legitimacy," the newspaper said.

The daily also settled historical accounts after comments by Syria's ambassador to Egypt and permanent representative at the Arab League Yusef Ahmed, who praised Hezbollah for "doing what Arab armies have never done in their entire history."

The Syrian army itself "was the source of several defeats that affected the Arab nation", Al-Gumhuriya said, in reference to the 1967 Arab defeat at the hands of Israel.

The newspaper demanded an immediate apology from the ambassador and added: "Egypt is bigger than the games you're playing."

Al-Ghad, the weekly newspaper of jailed opposition leader Ayman Nur, joined the chorus of criticism against the Syrian president, whose name means "lion" in Arabic.

"Bashar... a lion only after the war," was the newspaper's main headline.

"His silence was deafening during the war," said Al-Ghad, in reference to Assad's speech, which came 24 hours after the UN-brokered ended the month-long hostilities.
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