From:    New England Americans for Lebanon (NEAL)
               Boston, Massachusetts, USA

              The Lebanese Canadian Coordinating Council (LCCC)
             Toronto, Ontario, Canada

To:      The Honourable Prime Minister Mr. Tony Blair
              10 Downing St.
              SW1A 2AA London
              United Kingdom

Date:      22 December 2003

Re:      Comments by the British Foreign Office on Syria and Lebanon

Dear Mr. Blair,
In a report published by the Arabic Asharq Al-Awsat on 19 December 2003 ( a British Foreign Ministry spokesman, commenting on a visit by Baroness Simons with the Syrian president Bashar Assad, stated that the British Government is in a serious and constructive dialogue with the Syrian government. While quiet diplomacy is to be commended in lieu of war, the parallels between the former Iraqi government (which your government toppled by waging war) and the extant Syrian regime are too close for us to simply ignore the obvious contradiction in British foreign policy concerning the two countries. Which also makes Her Majesty's government's policy in very serious disagreement with official US policy, especially since the recent passing of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act by the US Congress and its signing by President Bush into law.

All observers seem to agree that the young Syrian dictator Bashar Assad had some promise as a reformer when he first inherited power from his late father in 2000, but very little reform has in fact since been implemented. After a brief glimmer of hope, he repealed some of his earlier promises in the areas of human rights and ordered the detention of a number of Syrian human rights activists and dissidents. Of those who escaped the Syrian Gulag during that brief Damascus Spring, some, including Nizar Nayyouf, described the abominable torture chambers of the Assad regime, its chemical weapons testing fields that used Syrian and Lebanese prisoners as guinea pigs, its ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience in Syria, and more importantly for us, its continued arbitrary detention of hundreds of Lebanese nationals whose whereabouts are unaccounted for, and who were illegally seized in Lebanese territory and illegally transferred to Syrian jails where they languish without charges and without contact with the outside world. All one has to do is read the annual reports by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations of the past two decades to see that the Syrian record in this area is exactly the same as the Iraqi one.

While we commend Baroness Simons' raising with the Syrian dictator the issue of his regime's 30-year old military presence in, or occupation of, Lebanon, we nonetheless remain baffled by the British government's implicit endorsement of the Syrian regime's support of terrorist organizations that train and operate from Lebanese territory under the guise of "liberation", at the very same time that the Syrian-Israeli border has been sordidly calm for the past 30 years. Which goes a long way to demonstrate to Her Majesty's government that the dictator in Damascus controls at will which borders to inflame and which to keep quiet, including the Syrian-Iraqi border whose porosity the Syrian regime claims to be uncontrollable, a claim unfortunately and perhaps naively endorsed by Baroness Simons herself. Only yesterday the Investigative Unit of the American NBC News published a report detailing a network of recruiters operating in Europe, including the UK, who send fighters from Europe to Iraq by way of Syria. Surely, one would have hoped that the Baroness would have discussed this issue with the up-and-coming dictator in Damascus.

In the final analysis, and in regards to the Syrian presence in Lebanon, it would not stir as much fear on our part were it not for the following facts:

- Syria has constantly refused to exchange embassies with Lebanon since the 1940s when the two countries became independent under the sponsorship of the League of Nations from mandatory France in the aftermath of World War I. This is consistent with a Syrian rejection of Lebanon's right to exist as an independent and sovereign nation. This is simply unacceptable in this day and age, and we hereby challenge Her Majesty's government to raise this issue directly with the Baathist ruler in Damascus.

- The Syrian military presence in Lebanon is not wanted by the Lebanese people. It is only wanted by the collaborator puppet regime presently in power, as you would understand that a puppet cannot ask its puppeteer to remove itself from the country. Syria has been officially asked at least twice by two Lebanese governments to withdraw itself from Lebanon, but to no avail. The governments of President Amin Gemayel in 1984 and of Prime Minister Michel Aoun in 1989 both made the request publicly and to international audiences. In both instances, the requests were ignored.

- In the Taef Agreement signed in 1989 and which was literally imposed on a decaying Lebanese Parliament, Syria categorically refused to commit itself to a timetable for the withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon. That was precisely in order for it to perpetually extend the justification for its occupation of its neighbor, which in fact it has done to this day. The argument that the Syrian occupation of Lebanon is a matter between the countries is as absurd as blaming the victim for the crime. We only ask that the British government simply endorse the idea that the Syrian regime commit itself to a verifiable timetable consistent with UN Resolution 520.

- As to the argument that Syria's military presence in Lebanon is justified on the ground that Israel could outflank Syria through the Lebanese-Syrian border, it has been amply proven wrong with the direct Israeli attack against Syria last October - the first in 30 years - to which Syria dared not even respond. Which goes to show that the threat to Syria across the Israeli-Syrian border is at least equal, if not greater, than the charade of a threat from Lebanon. Indeed, if we were to subscribe to this argument, like Her Majesty's government seems to do, then every other nation would be invading its next door neighbor in order to protect itself from a hypothetical threat by a third party country somewhere in the neighborhood. We do not presume that the British government is encouraging such blatant violations of the sovereignty of other countries, but its dealings with the anomalous Lebanese-Syrian situation make us suspect that in fact it does.
Joseph Hitti, PhD
New England Americans for Lebanon (NEAL)
118 Ten Hills Road
Somerville, MA 02145
Tel/Fax 617-776-7499

Elias Bejjani
Media Chairman
Lebanese Canadian Coordinating Council (LCCC)
505 Ginger Downs
Missi-Ontario Canada L5A 3A8
Tel/Fax 905 2729389
News Line 905 2700565

N.B: Copy sent to the the Honourable Foreign Minister of the UK