Israel, Syria hurl insults to cap talks Stormy conclusion clouds prospects for bilateral stage

November 02, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun Staff Correspondent

MADRID, Spain -- Two of the Middle East's bitterest enemies hurled insults and hatred at each other across the peace table yesterday in an extraordinary demonstration of the sentiments that have kept them at war for almost half a century.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir accused Syria of having "one of the most oppressive, tyrannical regimes in the world," of being a host to terrorists and a country whose Jewish population "has been exposed to cruel oppression, torture and discrimination of the worst kind."

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa accused Mr. Shamir of having been a member of the Jewish terror gang held responsible for the assassination of a United Nations peace envoy in 1948. He held up a "wanted" poster identifying a 32-year-old Mr. Shamir as a leader of the Stern gang wanted for the 1948 assassination in Jerusalem of Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, the U.N. peace envoy to Palestine.

Mr. al-Sharaa also accused Mr. Shamir of trying to keep "the Jewish question" alive, portraying Jews as the victims of persecution.

The climactic assault marked the end of the full formal Middle East peace conference in Madrid and left in some question whether, where and when it would proceed on to a second stage of bilateral talks that are supposed to begin tomorrow.

Both Mr. Shamir and Mr. al-Sharaa returned to their capitals yesterday, although an Israeli delegation remained, and Palestinians and Jordanians said they would meet with the Israelis.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III played down the bitter eruptions, saying that "posturing" had been expected amid the powerful emotions stirred by the Mideast conflict.

"Now the real work of peace must begin," he said at a post-conference news briefing.

But in a stern lecture before the conference ended, Mr. Baker warned all parties that they would have to make stronger moves toward peace if the process was to be sustained.

"Formulas, terms of reference and negotiations are not enough. Support for a negotiating process will not be sustainable unless the human dimension is addressed by all parties. A way must be found to send signals of peace and reconciliation that affect the peoples of the region."

He said the absence of "confidence-building steps" was disappointing, referring later to a settlement freeze by Israel, suspension of the Palestinian intifada and a halt to the Arab economic boycott of Israel.

"We can only succeed at the table if we find ways of reaching out to one another away from the table," he said, telling the parties not to wait for others to act first. "Each of you needs to get off the mark quickly."

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced later that Israel intended to start direct negotiations here tomorrow with Arab states and with Palestinians, but only to decide where subsequent substantive talks should be held.

Mr. Baker, who delayed his closing statement in a failed bid to nail down the next stage with Mr. al-Sharaa, increased pressure for a decision by announcing he wants to leave tomorrow night for the opening of the Ronald Reagan Library in California.

The Israelis, fearing what Mr. Netanyahu called either a circus or coliseum atmosphere in which Israel is isolated, want negotiations in the Middle East, preferably rotating between Israel and Arab capitals.

Syria and the Palestinians refuse to send negotiators to Israel.

Mr. Baker said he and the Soviets, co-sponsors of the talks, believed they should at least start in Madrid.

"It would be very difficult to understand how a party could now refuse to attend bilateral negotiations simply because of a disagreement over the site of those negotiations," he said.

Representatives of Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, met last night in an apparent effort to bring Syria around after Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, met with Mr. Baker.

Israelis indicated that they could accept talks in Cairo.

The Syrian outburst at Mr. Shamir yesterday occurred in the prime minister's absence. He left after his own speech to return to Jerusalem before the start of the Jewish Sabbath at sundown.

Mr. Shamir said that he meant no disrespect in leaving early, which spared him having to listen to yesterday's blast of Arab criticism.

But Palestinian delegate Haidar Abdul-Shafi accused him of using a "pretext" to leave and said Muslims were meeting on their holy day.

This criticism paled, however, next to Mr. al-Sharaa's attack. Calling Mr. Shamir's charge that Jews were held hostage in Syria "utter lies," he asked rhetorically why there should be a right of return for Jews, who he said left Palestine 2,000 years ago, and not for Palestinians, who left 40 years ago.

Israeli extremists, he said, have been encouraged to destroy sites sacred to other religions. And he said that Mr. Shamir, by saying that Israel was the true home to all Jews in the diaspora, implied that Jews could not owe allegiance to the countries where they lived.

Holding up a printed sheet of paper bearing a small photograph, he said it was a picture of Mr. Shamir when he was "wanted" as a terrorist for aiding in the assassination of Count Bernadotte. Mr. Shamir had been head of operations of the Stern gang, which is cited in the deaths of 100 British soldiers and policemen during the occupation.

Israeli officials condemned Mr. al-Sharaa's outburst as "shocking" and a blunt attack on Israel and the Jewish people. Mr. Shamir said he wasn't surprised and would not be dissuaded from pursuing peace.

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