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Senators, Concerned for Syrian Jews, Ask European Body to Deny Syria Aid

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In a move demonstrating concern for the plight of Syrian Jewry, nine U.S. Senators have urged members of the European Parliament not to give economic assistance to Syria.

The senators, led by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), sent a letter to 36 members of the European body.

“We hope you will consider declining to grant Syria any additional aid” until “Syria, at a minimum, completes the one gesture in human rights which it began — permitting all those Jews remaining in Syria who desire to travel to do so,” the senators wrote.

The Nov. 10 letter was hailed by the Council for the Rescue of Syrian Jews, an organization that educates people about the plight of Syria’s Jewish population.

The group’s president, Alice Harary, noted Wednesday in a statement that the letter “reiterates the U.S. Senate’s unceasing commitment to gain the prompt release of Syria’s Jews.”

Syria’s small Jewish population has become a controversial issue here.

In April 1992, Syria announced a free-travel policy for its Jewish community, reversing the older practice of barring Syrian Jews from leaving the country in family groups.

But between October 1992 and January 1993, none of the approximately 1,350 Jews remaining in Syria were granted travel visas. In recent months, only a few Jews per week have received visas.

“Clearly, Syria’s Jewish community is being used as a pawn in the international arena,” the senators wrote to the European Parliament members.

In the wake of the Persian Gulf War, when Syria fought with the United States and its European and Arab allies, the European Parliament gave Syria about $180 million in economic aid.

A request for an additional $200 million was later blocked in the parliament, and it is those additional funds the parliament may reconsider.

Some in the parliament support granting Syria, once a patron of the former Soviet Union, the additional aid to encourage Syrian cooperation in the Middle East peace process. But other parliamentarians are opposed.

Other reasons the senators cited in their letter for opposing the aid included Syrian support for terrorism and drug trafficking.

Grassley and Kennedy sent a letter signed by some 66 senators to President Clinton earlier this year expressing concern about the Syrian Jews.

The Clinton administration has raised this issue with top Syrian officials.

Among other senators signing the letter to the European Parliament members were Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).

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