Expelled Syrians stuck at Iraq border
From the International Desk
Published 4/14/2003 10:06 AM
BEIRUT, Lebanon, April 14 (UPI) -- Some 2,000 Syrian political exiles, including former President Amin al-Hafez, have been stranded at the Syrian-Iraqi border after being expelled from their houses in Baghdad following the fall of their protégé Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the Paris-based Radio Monte Carlo reported Monday.
The radio, monitored in Beirut, said the group appealed to Syrian President Bashar Assad to allow them return to their country and that behind-the-scenes contacts were under way in Damascus to determine their fate. Syrian officials have so far refrained from commenting.
"We appeal to President Assad to forget the past and allow them to return to Syria but with dignity," said Khaled, the son of al-Hafez.
Khaled told Radio Monte Carlo his father and about 1,000-2,000 Syrians, who have been living in Iraq since they sought political asylum in the late 1960s, have been stranded at the Husaiba border point on the Iraqi-Syrian frontier for the past three days. He said the Syrian exiles were attacked and expelled by Iraqis from their residence complex in Baghdad's Haifa Street.
"They took their houses, furniture and everything. They allowed them to leave only with their clothes on," Khaled said, noting the number of Syrian exiles living in Iraq was around 4,000.
"A large number of them are with my father now at the border. Others could not leave and may be they are on their way to the border," he said. "They are all Syrian political refugees with their families, elderly, children and women. I don't think that Syria will abandon them."
Khaled said the Syrian authorities could not abandon his father who "is part of Syria's history" despite "the political differences."
"We hope that the road will be opened to them," he said. He added he could not establish "a direct contact" with his father and do not know if "all of them arrived safely at the border."
"Friends" at the Abu Kamal border passage on the Syrian border have been feeding him with information about the stranded Syrian refugees.
The appeal came at a time the United States renewed warnings of Syria against hosting leaders and officials of Saddam's collapsed Baath Party regime. President George W. Bush accused Damascus on Sunday of having chemical weapons.
Such accusations were denied as "totally baseless" by Syrian Transportation Minister Makram Obeid during a visit to Lebanon Monday.
"These accusations or beliefs are far away from truth," Obeid said, reminding that Syria always cooperated with the international resolutions and "will keep on cooperation within the framework of international agreements."
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