PARIS (Dec. 18)
Foreign Minister Roland Dumas’ official visit to Syria was postponed indefinitely Wednesday, a day before it was to take place.
Although the Foreign Ministry gave no reason, the Syrians announced suddenly Wednesday that President Hafez Assad would be out of town.
They appear to be irked by a number of factors, including the brevity of the French minister’s visit.
Dumas was to have spent only a few hours in Damascus enroute from Amman, Jordan to a European Community meeting in Brussels. But according to informed sources here, the Syrians were most disturbed by the fact that he planned to raise two embarrassing issues — the condition of Syria’s 4,500 Jews and the presence in Syria of Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner.
French Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld was expelled from Syria on Dec. 10 after protesting outside the Justice Ministry in Damascus against the haven granted Brunner for more than 30 years.
The Syrians apparently felt insulted when Dumas received her and her Nazi-hunting lawyer husband, Serge Klarsfeld, at the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.
The insult may have been compounded by Beate Klarsfeld’s admission she had entered Syria with false papers. She told reporters she had not expected the Syrians to respond to her protests against Brunner or their treatment of Syrian Jews.
The purpose of her trip was to remind Dumas to raise those issues in his talks with Syrian leaders, she said.
Dumas’ intention to comply apparently further angered the Syrians, French sources said.
The 79-year-old Brunner, who commanded the Drancy internment center near Paris where Jews were herded for deportation to Auschwitz, is one of the last major Nazi war criminals still at large. His extradition has been sought in vain for years by both France and Germany.
Brunner has lived under the alias Georg Fisher in a villa on George Haddad Street in Damascus. On Oct. 15, the Syrian authorities moved him to a less conspicuous location. According to some reports, they would like to ease him out of the country to improve their image with the West.