June 16, 2000

Syria, the Arab countries and the world mourned the death of the late Syrian President Hafez Al Assad aged 69. The people's Assembly (Syrian Parliament) held an extraordinary session during which a special committee was formed to amend article number 83 over the age of the future Syrian President making it 34 years instead of 40. This procedure was considered a step to elect the late President's son Bashar Al Assad who is 34 years of age as the new President of Syria.

The Regional and the National leaderships of the Baath Arab Socialist Party mourned President Hafez Al Assad passing away on Saturday morning. "We mourn to the Arab nation the death of the great man President Hafez Al Assad. The President's family, his sons Dr. Bashar, Maher, Majd and daughter Bushra in addition to all the Al Assad's and Makhlouf's families mourn him too,'' an official statement said.

While a medical source was quoted as saying that President Al Assad died of heart attack, the Syrian Ambassador to Iran Ahmed Al Hassan told Agence France Presse that President Al Assad died of a brain thrombus.

The Syrian diplomat said President Al Assad was in good health during the last few days and he received Kamal Kharazi the Iranian Foreign Minister on the 28th of May.

Meanwhile, the Syrian People's Assembly held a session during which the Speaker of the Assembly Abdul Qader Qaddoura said: "This is a day of sadness and sorrow in every home, school, university, farm and quarry,''

Qaddoura said, "sadness is in the heart of every man, woman and child because the legacy of President Al Assad's accomplishment and ideas is a planet that will shine not just on this generation, but also on coming generations.''

"We are before a great calamity but we believe in our people and in political and social forces as well as his brave army that would face it with courage and wisdom,'' he added.

"You Syrians, the steadfast leader who defended his nation's rights has left he, the leader who raised along with his values and ideals as well as his policy has gone.. The leader who fought for more than half a century for the Arabs' pride, their unity and freedom to protect their dignity and restore their rights passed away,'' the Speaker said.

Members of the Parliament stood a minute of silence in respect to the soul of the President. Then the Syrian parliament amended article number 83 over the age of the future Syrian President making it 34 years instead of 40.

More than third of the committee formulated to amend the constitution article voted by the majority on a provision to make the person to be nominated for the post of the Syrian Arab Republic President to be ''an Arab Syrian who enjoys his civil and political rights and fulfilling the 34 years."

Officials said First Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam had taken on the role of Acting President, signing the approval for the constitutional amendment.

The ruling Baath party unanimously nominated Bashar for the post of president. The Baath Party said in a statement: "The regional command of the Baath Party held a meeting last night with all members... and decided unanimously to nominate Doctor Bashar Al Assad to the post of president."

According to the constitution, if the nomination is approved, the parliament will issue a decree for a referendum in which voters would be asked to accept or reject the nominee.

Officials said the parliament would meet on June 25 to approve the nomination and set the date for a referendum in which voters will be asked to accept or reject him as president.

Dr. Bashar was promoted from Colonel to Lieutenant General and named new Commander of the armed forces on Sunday by Vice-President Abdel Halim Khaddam, who is Acting President under the constitution.

Senior army officers, led by Defence Minister Mustafa Tallas and Chief-of-Staff General Ali Aslan, met Bashar to pledge their loyalty, officials said after the appointment.

Earlier the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz sent a cable of condolences to Dr. Bashar and his family on the death of his father.

In his cable, King Fahd stated: "We have received with saddened hearts the painful and tragic news of the death of your dear father. The Arab world has lost by his absence a great and wise leader and sincere struggler who had been faithful to his country, its people and the Arab nation as a whole. Moreover, we have lost, in his death, a dear friend, a kind brother and keeper of the pledge. On behalf of myself, all members of the royal family, and the Saudi people, we convey our deep condolences on his death. We pray God to have mercy on him and grant him paradise."

Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz, Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the National Guard, sent a similar cable of condolences, saying: "We were greatly saddened by the news of the death of your father. The tragedy is great. This is, however, the fate of God, and we should be patient as God wills us to be. The Arab world and the Muslim people have lost one of the wisest and ablest of men. He was a brave and sincere fighter for Arab rights, for the Palestinian cause, the sublimity of his country and the dignity of its people; and he was a faithful friend to us. We send our deep condolences on his death and pray God to grant him mercy and forgiveness."

The Crown Prince had also contacted Dr. Bashar by telephone, to convey to him, to his family and the Syrian people, his deepest condolences on the President's death, and praised the efforts exerted by the late President in the service of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Aviation and Inspector General sent a similar cable, saying: "We were deeply saddened by the painful and tragic news of the death of your father. There is no doubt that the Arab and Islamic worlds have suffered a great loss in terms of his absence from the arena of the Arab cause with his continual struggle for what is right. I convey my deep condolences to you, your family and our brothers the people of Syria. I pray God to bestow mercy upon him and grant him paradise."

On behalf of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Prince Salman Ibn Abdul Aziz, Emir of Riyadh region, visited the Syrian embassy to convey the condolences of King Fahd, Crown Prince Abdullah and Prince Sultan, on the sad demise of the Syrian President.

Prince Salman highlighted the efforts that had been exerted by President Al Assad in the Arab and international arenas and noted Syria's accomplishments in terms of progress and prosperity during his era. He reiterated the depth of the brotherly relations which link the Kingdom and Syria.

Syrian Charge d'Affaires in the Kingdom Mahmoud Abdul Karim received Prince Salman on his arrival at the embassy headquarters. He expressed his thanks and appreciation to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the Crown Prince, the Second Deputy Prime Minister and Prince Salman for their noble feelings toward the Syrian leadership, government and people.

The Saudi Royal Diwan had made the following announcement: "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has received with deep sorrow and grief the news of the death of Syrian President Hafez Al Assad, a leader who had sincerely dedicated his efforts in the service of the Arab and Muslim causes. The Syrian Arab Republic accomplished significant development and civilizational achievements under the leadership of the late President, and these achievements will remain as a memorial to him. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its leadership, government and people, present their condolences to the Syrian government and people on the occasion of this mournful event, and would like to affirm its inalienable stance beside the fraternal Syrian people and whoever they may select as a successor to the late President to resume work in the service of the country and the Arab world. We pray to God Almighty to bless the deceased with His Grace and to let him take his place in Paradise."

Arab countries declared 3 days mourning period, and Arab leaders paid tribute to the late Syrian President, hailing him as a champion of Arab nationalism who steered his country away from war towards an unrealized peace with Israel.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said in his cable that he was the last person to talk by phone with President Al Assad. Lahoud quoted President Al Assad as saying in the call '' We have to build a brilliant future for our sons and our duty is to inherit them better than what we inherited''.

President Lahoud said: "My profound pain and the enormity of this tragedy have left me unable to find words to describe my sorrow over the loss of the brother, friend and the leader, President Hafez Al Assad. I was the last person to speak with him, and it was as if his last words were meant to convey his love and devotion to Syria and Lebanon, and the two countries' future generations. My only consolation is that glorious Syria, which has inherited his dignity, resilience, loyalty and principles, will uphold these virtues under my brother, Dr. Bashar Assad, bearer of the message and guardian of the legacy. To beloved Syria, its fraternal citizens and valiant army, I convey my personal condolences and the condolences of the government and entire people of Lebanon. May God grant us all patience during this tragedy."

Al Assad's loss was also described by Prime Minister Salim Al Hoss as a "tragedy that struck Lebanon in the heart".

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak ordered three days of state mourning.

Bahrain's Emir Sheikh Hamad Ibn Eisa Al Khalifa offered his condolences to Dr. Bashar in his birthplace of Qerdaha. The Emir of Bahrain underlined after presenting his condolences his keenness to "develop brotherly ties between the two countries." "We appreciate and back the Syrian people nomination of our brother Lieutenant General Dr. Bashar to lead the country due to his representation of the Arab thinking and the national feeling as well as the sincere work that is inspired by his deceased father late President Hafez Al Assad,'' he said. "I underlined Bahrain's standing by Syria as a leadership and people in this great ordeal,'' he added.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, praised the Syrian leader's "wisdom, courage and political experience" in a phone call to his son, Bashar.

Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, expressed grief at the news and declared three days of official mourning in the Palestinian run areas. President Arafat said he shared the sorrow of President Al Assad's family. He said the Palestinian people would stand beside the people of Syria, "confident in their ability to overcome this fateful moment."

Kuwait recalled Al Assad's "great stand beside Kuwait during the tribulation of aggression", referring to Syria's part in the US-led coalition that drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991.

"Syria and the Arab world have lost a powerful personality which left its mark on events," Arab League Secretary-General Dr. Esmat Abdul Meguid told Reuters. Dr. Abdul Maguid described President Al Assad as "one of the heroes of war and of peace who devoted his life to serving the Arab and Islamic nations and fighting for the recovery of their land and of Arab rights".

He said he hoped that "the Syrian people will pass through this crisis peacefully and overcome their pain to move forward on the road to development and peace".

US President Bill Clinton phoned Bashar to express his condolences. An official Syrian source quoted Bashar as telling President Clinton he would pursue his father's aims of achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

"While we had our disagreements, I always respected him because I felt that he was open and straightforward with me and because I felt he meant it when he said he had made a strategic decision for peace," Clinton told reporters in Minneapolis.

Clinton was told of reports of Al Assad's death while he flew on Air Force One to Minnesota, where he gave the commencement speech at Carlton College. An aide handed Clinton a note confirming the death as Clinton sat on the dais before delivering the speech. He did not mention Al Assad's death in his brief talk.

In a written statement issued after the address, Clinton said: "Over the past seven years, I have met him many times and got to know him very well. We had our differences, but I always respected him.

"Since the Madrid Conference, he made a strategic choice for peace and we worked together to achieve that goal. Throughout my contacts with him, including our last meeting, he made clear Syria's continued commitment to the path of peace." "We look forward to working with Syria to achieve the goal of a comprehensive peace," Clinton said in the statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin described Al Assad as a friend of Russia and said his death caused him concern for the future of Middle East peace.

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said Al Assad's death was "more regrettable" because there was a strong expectation of peace between Syria and Israel.

China called Al Assad a "respected friend" and "outstanding leader" and expressed confidence that ties between the nations would continue to warm.

The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement saying ''President Al Assad has been the factor for stability in the Middle East.'' Blair praised Al Assad's contribution to the Middle East peace process and said he hoped his death would "redouble" efforts in the region to find lasting peace.

In Brussels, Romano Prodi of the European Commission voiced deep grief saying that ''President Al Assad would always be remembered for his immense and great contributions to his country''. Moratinos, the EU envoy, asserted ''President Al Assad's sincere and full commitment to the Middle East peace process''.

The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, praised the great late President Hafez Assad's principled stands and cooperation with the international organizations. "President Al Assad was for thirty years a partner of big value for the UN and presented an example of Syria's firm leadership," Annan added in a word in the book of condolences at the headquarters of Syria's permanent delegation in New York. He added that construction on the legacy of the late President would be a great challenge for all of us.

French President Jacques Chirac said France supported Al Assad's vision for stability, security and prosperity and would "spare no effort to help [future] leaders fulfil this ambition." The French Foreign minister Hubert Vidrine said before heading to Syria that Damascus constituted the main component in the peace we were seeking.

Canadian Prime Minister,Jean Chretien praised President Hafez Al Assad and described him "The leader who built modern Syria." In a statement, the Prime Minister said Syria played under the leadership of President Hafez Al Assad a main role in the Middle East. Chretien praised the warm welcome he received in Damascus last April when he visited Syria and said that he talked to President Al Assad on the phone 11 days ago.

Iran's Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Al Assad "a great leader [who] had an undeniably important role in the recent victories in Lebanon."

Hundreds of thousands of grief-stricken Syrians crammed the streets of Damascus Tuesday to bid farewell to their leader Hafez Al Assad. Army officers carried Al Assad's coffin on their shoulders from his house to a cannon carriage. The coffin, wrapped by the Syrian flag, was followed by Bashar Al Assad, two other sons Maher and Majd as well as Defense Minister Geneneral Mustafa Tallas and other high-ranking officials.

The cortege headed to Umayyad Square where hundreds of thousands of people gathered. Hundreds ran after the procession waving pictures of Hafez Assad and his son Bashar Al Assad. They shouted "Allah Akbar" (God is Great) and many were overcome with emotion at the approach of the cortege. "With Soul and Blood, we redeem you Bashar," they shouted.

Hafez Al Assad's coffin was taken to the People's Palace in the Jabal Qassioun area where Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, helped carried it inside. Somber music echoed as the coffin was laid inside one of the palace's room to allow mourners an opportunity to pay their final respects. One of by one, Hafez AL Assad's long-time companions in the Baath Party, ministers, parliamentarians, Army generals entered the room and read the opening versus of the Quran "Al Fateha" before his coffin.

They were followed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and several Lebanese officials, including former Prime Minister Rafik Al Hariri and Druze leader Walid Jumblat who were leading large delegations.

Lieutenant General Bashar held meetings with dignitaries who came to pay respect to the late President Al Assad before he went to his last place.

Dr. Bashar also received President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister Salim Al Hoss. The Lebanese officials offered their country and their own condolences to Bashar and to the Syrians asserting Lebanon's ever thankfulness to President Hafez Assad's unwavering support to their country.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the Head of the Russian Doumma House Ghenadi Sylzenouv who handed him a message from President Putin were privately received by Dr. Bashar.

Albright said Bashar Al Assad seems poised and "ready to assume his duties." They plan to meet later after the country's 40 day mourning period expires. "I was very impressed by his desire to follow in his father's footsteps," Albright said after visiting the imposing hilltop palace where Hafez Al Assad was laid.

Dr. Bashar received King Abdullah II of Jordan and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmed Al Subah as well as Iranian President Mohammed Khatami.

On behalf of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz, the Saudi royal family and people, Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the National Guard offered condolence to Dr. Bashar Al Assad, the General Commander of the Syrian Armed Forces and to the Syrian government and people on the death of the late Syrian President Hafez Al Assad.

Crown Prince Abdullah was in Damascus where he participated in the funeral of President Hafez Al Assad.

Later, General Dr. Bashar Al Assad received at his residence in Damascus Crown Prince Abdullah who conveyed the condolences of King Fahd, his own and the condolences of the Saudi government and people to Dr. Bashar, the government and people of the Syrian Arab Republic on the death of the late president.

The reception was attended by the accompanying delegation of Crown Prince Abdullah and a number of Syrian officials.

Later, Crown Prince Abdullah and Dr. Bashar held a bilateral closed-door meeting.

During his visit to Damascus, Crown Prince Abdullah met with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was attending the funeral.

In a message addressed to Lieutenant General Dr. Bashar Al Assad, Crown Prince Abdullah expressed deep regret for the demise of the late President Hafez Al Assad and hoped Syria would be kept in secure hands after his departure.

Before leaving Damascus, the Crown Prince sent the message to Bashar, in which he expressed deep sorrow for this" great calamity" of President Al Assad's death; noting to his full faith in God's destiny and willingness.

"Dear friend and brother, we leave Syria while we are quite optimist and confident that Syria, by God's will, will be kept in a secure and capable hands that are raised on faith in God and pride of the nation's heritage..'' Crown Prince Abdullah said.

Crown Prince Abdullah reiterated Saudi Arabia's support to Syria. He said the Kingdom would remain beside sisterly Syria and its people in words and deeds and under all circumstances will support and back them because it is our Islamic, ethical and Arab duty.''

Prince Abdullah expressed confidence that the Syrian people would save the firm national principals, the unity and steadfastness to enhance the stable Syria that proved it was great because of its people and would accomplish aspirations and restore the usurped rights.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, cried as he stood at the coffin. He then kissed Bashar, clasped his hand and whispered in his ear for a few moments.

Later, Hafez Al Assad's coffin was taken to Meza airport in Damascus from the People's Palace and was then flown to the coastal city of Lattakia before being transported aboard a cannon carriage to his hometown village of Qordaha in northern Syria where he was buried alongside his eldest son, Bassel Al Assad, who was killed in a car accident in early 1994.