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Germany urges Syria to use its influence on allies

Written by: Staff
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DAMASCUS, Dec 4 (Reuters) Germany urged Syria today to use its influence with its Lebanese and Palestinian allies to help maintain Lebanon's stability and promote the West Asia peace process.

''I call on Syria to avoid any actions which directly or indirectly might lead to the destabilisation of Lebanon,'' German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after meeting President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian capital.

''I urge Syria to use its influence on Hamas to help the peace process,'' he said at a news conference with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.

Germany has been part of a Western campaign to isolate Syria over its alleged role in last year's killing in Beirut of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Damascus denies involvement.

Berlin, with several other European governments, had been reconsidering its policy of no high-level contacts with Damascus, especially after the war earlier this year between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, which Syria backs.

In his talks, Steinmeier urged Syria to persuade Hezbollah to end demonstrations that had brought hundreds of thousands of government opponents on to the streets of Beirut, German delegation officials said.

Syria, the dominant foreign power in Lebanon until forced to pull out its troops last year, supports Hezbollah's view that the Western-backed government in Beirut is unrepresentative.

Assad said Damascus wants stability in the region, but Israel must not be allowed to hold on to occupied land.

''Syria is part of the solution, not the problem. We don't interfere in the affairs of any one,'' Assad was quoted by the official national news agency SANA as telling Steinmeier.

Damascus backs efforts to form a Palestinian national unity government, although the ruling Hamas movement, whose exiled leader Khaled Meshaal lives in Syria, has been in a dispute with its rival Fatah over the proposed administration.

Steinmeier is on the last leg of a four-day West Asia tour to meet decision-makers before Germany takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union next month.

Syria urged Germany to play a decisive role in helping solve the region's conflicts when it assumes the EU and Group of Eight presidencies next year.

But during his tour, which took him to Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Israel, Steinmeier said Germany and the EU could play only a supporting role and the key to progress lay in Washington.

REUTERS BDP VC2310

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