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Key Economic Data 
  2002 2001 2000 Ranking(2002)
Millions of US $ 21,900 19,500  17,896 64
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,130 1,040     950 131
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Bashir al-Asad


Update No: 011 - (04/10/04)

Another wake-up call for Syria, as it's reminded of its weakness
In what will certainly raise several questions about security and military strength, Israel once again struck inside Syria with impunity killing Izz El-Deen Sheikh Khalil, a member of Hamas, who had lived in Syria since Israel expelled him from Gaza in 1992. Israel has not officially taken responsibility, but Israeli security has admitted to its involvement and shown that it can strike in Syria - and elsewhere in the Middle East - whenever it wants. This was the second time that Israel has attacked Syria since the end of the 1973 war when Syria was still perceived as a champion of Arab nationalism and strength. Indeed, in October of 2003 Israeli planes flew over the Syrian capital and bombed what was supposed to be a terrorist training facility facing no opposition whatsoever. The killing of the Hamas leader in September merely reminded Syria of the precarious position it is facing. Frequent accusations by advisors to the US administration about Syria's dangerous arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, Syria did not retaliate. Indeed, Syria's military forces are all but obsolete, a fact made all the more obvious by the ease with which the US disposed of the supposedly much more powerful Iraqi army in the first few weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The recent attack comes as another embarrassing reminder to a leadership obsessed with control - an aspect it cultivates relentlessly through all forms of communication - that so far as its borders are concerned, it has none. Whatever, political and economic reforms were being planned, the attack has once again brought up the concern over Syria's military preparedness and the efficiency of its internal security apparatus. President Bashir Al-Asad, who took over from his father in a more optimistic climate promising wide scale reforms will be curbed in his efforts. The attack will no doubt focus the government's attention to security issues and away from the reforms that were slowly opening the country economically and - more marginally - politically. 

For its part the United States has not condemned or even raised minor concerns over the incident supporting Israel in its pursuit of 'terrorists' and 'terrorist' groups beyond its borders. The fact that truly underlines Syria's political and military helplessness is that it faces a 'damned if you don't, damned if you do' attitude from the current powers in the Middle east region. Syria is literally caught in a sandwich between the United States in Iraq, and Israel. The 'with us or against us' philosophy that has characterized US foreign policy since the WTC attacks has changed the United States' already slanted role toward Israel into a role that the Arab world increasingly perceives as uniquely favouring Israel. Moreover, while US policy could not be any clearer. It still insists that Syria adopt concrete measures to stop the flow of foreign fighters filterting through its borders into Iraq. Last month, the United States had also pressured Syria on the Lebanese front suggesting it was applying influence beyond its competence into the Lebanese presidential election. 

While Syria retorted that the United States was interfering in the former country's special relationship with Lebanon, in late September there was a noteworthy re-deployment of Syrian troops in Lebanon. Clearly, Syria cannot expect to confront Israel or the United States on the military front and it will now be forced to negotiate a new role for itself in the region. More significantly, it is the Ba'ath leadership of Syria that will be most concerned in maintaining power. The only course the Syrian leadership can choose, therefore, is to strengthen its diplomatic channels with the European Union while quietly cooperating with the US in fulfilling agreements over the issue of border control. Of course, it is ever more doubtful that Damascus will agree to harbouring Palestinian groups in the near future as their presence - as was the case in Lebanon in 1982 - offers excuses for Israeli and US interventions that will generate little furore in diplomatic circles. The UN while condemning actions such as the murder of Izz El-Deen Sheikh Khalil has no bite. Lately, in fact, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Sept. 2 drafted by France and the United States also asked Syria to pull its forces out of Lebanon and stop meddling in its neighbour's internal affairs. Syria seemed to be able to place a soft pressure on Israel through Hamas, and more directly through Hezbollah in Lebanon. Palestinian leaders often travel across the border to Lebanon, which is controlled by Syria, where they can conduct business. So far Syria has denied that Hamas leaders it is harbouring have been asked to leave; nevertheless, everything would suggest that this will happen quietly if not overtly and Palestinian activists said last week all Palestinian factions with offices in Syria had decided to close to avoid further problems for their hosts in view of the increased US pressure. 

Moreover, Syria has also started to re-deploy 16,000 troops in Lebanon in response to the recent UN resolution drafted by the United States and France - even if the move was claimed to be prompted by resolution 1559 asking for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon. Arab diplomats have suggested that this decision has in fact been taken as a response to U.S. projects for a Greater Middle East. The project involves the effective embarrassment of Arab regimes that have failed to adopt democratising reforms and more market oriented economics in order to bring about change. The policy is important to the United States, which has launched the Iraq war ostensibly to jump-start a process of renewal in the region. A process that has, heretofore, failed to bring about any of the supposedly desired reforms. Some Arab diplomats have also suggested that the Israeli attack on the Hamas Sheikh was also an attempt to try and sabotage the newly found Syrian cooperation with Washington. Syria has been addressing American concerns over border controls and reached an understanding in recent weeks over the problem. As a demonstration of the supine attitude to which Syria has been relegated merely a few days after the murder of the Hamas leader, a US delegation visited Damascus and pressed the Syrian leadership to cooperate on controlling the long Syrian-Iraqi border. 

Meanwhile, Syria oblivious to the fact no one fears its bite, insisted that the sudden redeployment was not the result of external pressure, but was, in fact, mandated by the 1989 reconciliation pact known as the Taif Accord, named after the Saudi Arabian city where the accords were brokered, and which put an end to the Lebanese civil war. Under this agreement, Syria was supposed to re-deploy its troops and eventually pull them out as peace and stability was restored. For his part, Syrian President Bashar Assad stressed Syria's international responsibilities and the importance of respecting all international decisions without exception hinting at the fact his government had acted also in response to the September 9th U.N. resolution. While, this development would normally bode well and suggest the chance of better relations between the United States and Syria, senior US officials to the State Department have denied this. Indeed, the United States continues to charge that Syria has been trying to undermine the interim government in Iraq. In the long agenda of accusations against Syria, the US has also added that the Asad regime has been harbouring senior operatives of Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi - the new Bin Laden - blamed for just about every terror act in Iraq - former aides to Saddam Hussein and not to be outdone Iraqi nuclear scientists as part of a joint Syrian - Iranian master plan. The near future of Syria may well be encapsulated by the unnamed US official's menacing statement: "If Americans are dying in Iraq because of Syrian policies, then this is something we are not going to tolerate," a senior official said.

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Turkish, Syrian ministers initial free trade agreement

Turkish State Minister, Kursad Tuzmen, and the Syrian minister of trade, Ghassan al-Rifa'i, initialled a Turkey-Syria free trade agreement on August 28th. Tuzmen said that the free trade agreement which was initialled between Turkey and Syria was a historical chance for the two countries. The agreement would be signed before the end of 2004 under the instructions of prime ministers of Turkey and Syria, he noted, Anatolia News Agency reported. 
Tuzmen stressed that they aimed to further develop relations with regional countries and create the atmosphere of peace, tranquillity and stability. "We will see that putting into practice the free trade agreement which was initialled today will be a turning point for commercial and political relations between Turkey and Syria," Tuzmen underlined.
The Syrian minister of trade, Ghassan al-Rifa'i, thanking organizations of private sectors of the two countries for their contributions and constructive attitude, said that they believed that the free trade agreement would contribute to joint interests of Turkey and Syria. They wanted the agreement to be signed and put into practice as soon as possible, Al-Rifa'i noted. 
Stating that the two countries would also work together in three other areas, Al-Rifa'i listed those areas as establishing border trade centres, forming free zones and making good use of fields which would be cleared from mines for joint projects.

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Syria-Iran establishing joint petrochemical FTZ 

Syrian Minister of Economy and Commerce has called for the establishment of an Iran-Syrian free trade zone (FTZ) to market Iran's petrochemical products, Petroenergy Information Network (PIN) reported.
Iran's Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Ali Abdolalizadeh signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Syrian minister in Damascus on Thursday.
During the signing ceremony, the two sides called for boosting economic and trade cooperation between the two countries. The Iranian Minister stated that trade exchanges between the two countries will hit $3 bln within the next three years.
He stressed the necessity for the further vitalization of private sectors of the two countries and expressed optimism over boosting economic cooperation between Iran and Syria.
According to the report, the Minister announced that the Syrian Minister of Economy and Commerce Dr. Qassan Alrafaei would visit Iran's petrochemical industries in November 2004.
The Syrian minister noted that the major topics discussed in the meeting included joint meeting of the commerce committees, investigating ways to activate preferential trade exchanges, paving grounds for the two countries' entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and removing the obstacles on the way to further development of relations between the two countries.
Also, Iran and Syria agreed to hold two Syrian specialized exhibitions in Iran. The two countries have also decided to follow up engineering surveys aimed at modernization and development of the industrial slaughterhouse in Damascus as well as taking steps for the construction of another slaughterhouse in the Syrian city of Hams.

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