Damascus synagogue (archives)
Photo: Ron Ben-Yishai
Assad. Wants to improve image in US
Photo: Reuters

Assad backs synagogue renovation

Syrian ambassador to US says plan to restore 11 synagogues across country 'has nothing to do with the conflict and is not a gesture to the Israelis'

Syrian President Bashar Assad has approved the renovation of 11 synagogues across the country.


Renovation experts plan to complete the restoration of the Al-Raqi Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter of Damascus by the end of the month as the renovation of 10 other synagogues in Syria's major cities continues.


"Assad sees the rebuilding of Jewish Damascus in the context of preserving the secularism of Syria,” Josh Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, told the Wall Street Journal. “This is an effort by the regime to show its seriousness and an olive branch to the Jewish community in America, which they have been wooing.”


The project was likely executed following Assad's meeting two months ago with Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.


At the time, Hoenlein denied reports that he was sent to relay a message to the Syrian president from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said he arrived to discuss a sensitive issue, related to the Jewish synagogues and cemeteries in Syria and received a "very positive response from Assad."


Despite the generous move, it is probably not meant as a message from Syria to Israel. "It has nothing to do with the Israeli-Syrian conflict," Syrian Ambassador to the US Imad Mustafa said Monday. "This is not a gesture to the Israelis."


Seeking closer ties with Syrian Jews

Commentators estimated that the move was aimed at improving Assad's image in the American administration, which views him as Iran's ally and a disturbance in Lebanon.


According to the commentators, the president seeks to use the gesture in order to strengthen Syria's ties with the large Syrian-Jewish community centered in Brooklyn, New York and New Jersey.


Many of the community members, estimated at 75,000, maintain close ties with Syria. Some of them visit their birthplaces and conduct regular business relations in the country.


Over the years, dozens of the community members returned to Syria after experiencing absorption difficulties in the US, mainly financial.



פרסום ראשון: 02.10.11, 14:36
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