PARIS (Jan. 27)
Two Syrian Jews who recently managed to escape from Syria, appeared here today in heavy disguise at a press conference to describe Syria as “an inferno” for the 5000 Jews still living there. The press conference was sponsored by the International Committee for the Defense of the Jews in the Middle East. Officials said the man and the woman put on disguises to protect members of their families still resident in Syria. They declared that Syria’s Jews live in daily fear for such little freedom as they have and under severe discrimination. They reported that Jews in Damascus, where 3000 live, may not leave for more than two miles out of the city without permission from the secret police but that most of them never leave the Jewish area where they try to eke out a living from artisan shops
They cited a law forbidding Jews from leaving to their heirs real estate or other property which is automatically declared by the authorities to be interstate and automatically passed on to Palestinian terrorist organizations. Jews are forbidden to hold religious services without prior permission from the secret police. During such services, they said, a government official is usually present. If a Jew does manage to flee the country, they said, all of his or her known relatives and friends are routinely arrested, usually for a minimum period of two months. The male witness said he had been arrested after the escape or a brother and that he had been detained for ten months before he was court martialed on charges of “Zionist activities.” He was sentenced to death but later came under a general amnesty. He described conditions in Syrian prisons as “inhuman,” declaring that prisoners are regularly beaten and given electric shock tortures. He said many went insane from the mistreatment.
Presiding at the press conference were Alain Poher, president of the French Senate, and president of the international committee; M. Rolland, president of the French Supreme Criminal Court, and Jacques Mercier, the French attorney who had tried to defend the reputed Israeli agent, Elie Cohen, in Damascus. The two witnesses also reported that the situation in Egypt for Jews had improved during the past year and credited the improvement to efforts by the French government. They said many Jews who had been arrested had been freed from prison and allowed to leave Egypt. They called the situation for Jews in Iraq “stagnant,” adding that while Jews there no longer feared for their lives as they did a year ago at the time of public hangings of Iraq Jews, they still suffered several restrictions and discrimination. A similar report in less detail was issued in New York yesterday by Gen. Lucius D. Clay chairman of the Committee of Concern.