• Short Summary

    Syria's President Hafez Al-Assad continues to face a severe domestic crisis, despite recent cabinet changes designed to tackle the problems of economic discontent and widespread sectarian violence.

  • Description

    GV Minaret tower of Ommayad mosque Damascus, Syria

    GV Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad among congregation in mosque; SV man praying; GV Assad seated among congregation (3 shots)

    GV Latakia street scenes (2 shots)

    GV Christian church; SV PULL OUT TO GV street scene (2 shots)

    TV Hama city; GV street scene; SV Christian church tower PULL OUT TO GV minaret tower (3 shots)

    GV Aleppo castle

    GV EXTERIOR Aleppo hospital; GV patients in ward (3 shots)

    GV PULL OUT TO LV & SV Demonstrators carrying banners, pictures of Assad; GV religious leaders at head of procession (3 shots)

    SV Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and Assad at Moscow Airport, 1974; banners and portrait of Assad in crowd; GV Assad and Brezhnev walking past crowd (3 shots)

    SV INTERIOR Assad and United States President Jimmy Carter in Geneva, Switzerland, 1977; LV Assad and Carter on stage, newsmen in foreground; GV PAN newsmen; SV Assad (4 shots)

    SV Assad up steps of People's Palace, Tripoli, Libya, 1977; SV INT conference table ZOOM INTO PLO leader Yasser Arafat; GV conference table (3 shots)

    SV Guard outside Presidential Palace, Damascus: GV INT Assad seated with Chamoun; GV Lebanese leaders Suleiman Franjieh and Camille Chamoun; SV Chamoun seated with Assed (1977)

    GV ZOOM INTO SV Audience at Baath Party 23rd anniversary celebrations, 1979; SV Assad and other delegates taking seats; MS Assad (3 shots)

    Initials BB/


    Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved

    Background: Syria's President Hafez Al-Assad continues to face a severe domestic crisis, despite recent cabinet changes designed to tackle the problems of economic discontent and widespread sectarian violence. The stability of Syria is considered of vital interest to the whole Middle East -- and both the Soviet Union and the United States have recently sent high-ranking delegations looking for stronger ties with Mr. Assad's government. Soviet advisers in the country have become targets of the groups who oppose Assad. At least twelve have been reporters murdered since the beginning of this year. The Moslem Brotherhood -- part of the majority Sunni sect -- continue their campaign of violence, which they hope will bring down Assad's Alawite minority administration. Their aim is to establish an Islamic state where the law of the Koran is applied and all western influence rejected.

    SYNOPSIS: Religious imbalances in the country have long been reflected in the country's leadership. Mr. Assad's rule is based on the minority Alawite sect. Mr. Assad is himself an Alawite, and since he came to power almost ten years ago, Alawites have controlled most key military and political positions -- a situation that has led to widespread criticism.

    The seaside town of Latakia has been the scene of repeated acts of violence...with the Alawite sect the main target. Fifty years ago, it was the capital of an Alawite state. Most of the population are Sunni Moslems. The campaign of violence is regarded as an attempt to bring down Assad's government, even at the cost of civil war.

    On hundred miles inland, to the east, lies the town of Hama. It's the country's fourth largest city....and ore of the main centres of the predominant Sunni Moslems. Fifteen years ago, it was the centre of a revolt against the ruling Baathist party.

    Early in 1979, the town of Aleppo was the scene of a massacre of fifty military cadets -- an act seen as an attempt to provoke civil unrest by stirring up tensions in the armed forces. Most of the victims were Alawites.

    Then, in September, the town of Latakia saw a demonstration against the recent sectarian violence. It was attended by prominent Moslems and Christians, and met with official approval. But hardline groups have recently taken their revenge on some of the participants, and the violence continues.

    Internationally, Syria is a key link in Middle East peace. President Assad's relationship with Moscow remains strong, with the Soviet Union providing most of the country's military hardware.

    When United States President Jimmy Carter met Assad in Geneva in 1977, the Syrian leader said he was hopeful about an American Middle East peace initiative, thought he later rejected the Israel-Egypt treaty. Despite that, the United States continues to recognises Syria's important role in the region.

    Assad has been a strong backer of the Palestinian cause, which has led to problems in the Syrian army's peacekeeping role in the Lebanon. The rightists there have always called the Syrians an army of occupation, charging they favour the Palestinians and leftists. Despite please from Lebanese leaders to postpone the withdrawal, the Syrians have begun to pull out. their role in the Lebanon has been a drain on military resources, and, according to some, a source of discontent and indiscipline in the army.

    Back at home, the ruling Baath party has pledged to confront growing allegations of corruption in the army and government. However, major cabinet changes in mid-January so far have done little to tamp the growing unrest in Syria.

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