WASHINGTON (Nov. 16)
Syria intends to make it easier for Jews to emigrate, specifically members of “divided families” and unmarried women, the State Department said last week.
The department praised Syria for taking a “more flexible approach” toward its Jewish population, including its stated intention of granting visas to unwed Jewish women who were having difficulty finding husbands.
The department said Syria’s Foreign Ministry outlined the new approach to Edward Djerejian, the U.S. ambassador to Damascus.
The State Department estimates that there are 3,800 Jews living in Syria, including 3,000 in Damascus, 600 in Aleppo and 200 in Kamishli.
An administration source said Syria was motivated largely by a “desire to be accepted by the West and to gain certain advantages,” including the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions.
The sanctions were imposed in 1986 after a British court implicated Syria in the attempted bombing in London of an El Al Airlines plane, which had more than 230 U.S. citizens aboard.
The sanctions include not allowing Syria to receive U.S. foreign aid and goods or technology that would improve its military capabilities. Syria is also barred from receiving Export-Import Bank loans or receiving subsidized wheat from the Agriculture Department.
The State Department also praised Syria’s decision to bring to trial Salim Soued, 38, and Eli Soued, 27. The Soued brothers have been detained for two years without a trial on the grounds of having visited Israel.
Syria told the State Department that it would allow relatives of the brothers to visit them — a promise Syria has fulfilled, a State Department source said Wednesday.
Under Syrian law, visiting Israel is illegal and will likely remain so until Syria ends its state of war with Israel, the source added.
Besides the Soueds, three other Jews are in Syrian jail, including Jacques Lalo, 50, who was arrested for allegedly trying to escape from Syria.
The other two imprisoned Syrian Jews are Albert Laham, 48, and his son Victor, 18, who were also caught trying to escape.
Suri Kasirer, executive director of the recently formed New York-based Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews, said they have been in jail since December 1987, whereas Moslems trying to escape are generally incarcerated for just 15 days.
The Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews has provided the U.S. Embassy in Damascus with a list of 11 of the estimated 400 divided Jewish families in Syria. Other families did not want to be identified as wanting to emigrate, for fear of reprisal from the Syrian government, said Kasirer.
She said that in general, young Syrian Jewish men — but not women — want to postpone marriage until they are able to leave Syria. A large number of men have tried to escape from Syria, but women fear being caught and raped, she added.
Meanwhile, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations recently contacted a senior Syrian official to request better treatment of Syrian Jews.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the group’s executive director, confirmed that he made the contact, but refused to say with whom. The Jerusalem Post reported that Hoenlein’s contact was with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara on Oct. 5.
Hoenlein said that it would be “presumptuous” to argue that the conference’s contact with the Syrian official is responsible for the new Syrian treatment of its Jewish population.