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  Mandela Supports Barak's Demands

By Ron Kampeas
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, Oct. 19, 1999; 11:32 a.m. EDT

JERUSALEM –– Israel is right to ask for recognition from the Arabs in exchange for land, Nelson Mandela said today, lending moral support to Prime Minister Ehud Barak's demand for peace with Syria.

Mandela, who retired from the South African presidency in June, is touring the region as a private citizen – albeit, a private citizen with guaranteed access to each of the leaders of the region.

"I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel, within secure borders," Mandela said after a lengthy meeting with Foreign Minister David Levy.

Mandela's word carries considerable moral weight in the Arab world, where he forged allies during his long struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Israel backed the apartheid state.

"My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands," he said. He went on to say he "understood" why Israel would continue to occupy land as long as Arab states remained at war with Israel.

Barak wants to renew the peace process with Syria. However, Syria demands that Barak commit to returning the entire Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, before resuming talks that ended in 1996.

Barak has hinted he is willing to return most of the Golan – but he has also said that if the Syrians want a prior commitment, he also needs a prior commitment about the extent of peace.

Israeli media have reported that Syrian President Hafez Assad is reluctant to agree to healing ties, fearing it would open his country to the West and undermine his regime.

Much of Mandela's visit was devoted to reconciliation. He chided Israel for its support of apartheid, including weapons sales and military training, but said he had formed "warm friendships" with Israeli leaders on his two-day trip.

Mandela visited Iran on Sunday, and said during a news conference today he is convinced the country bears no aggressive intentions toward Israel.

Levy interrupted Mandela, telling him that Iran had demonstrated implacable hostility to the Jewish state by backing south Lebanese anti-Israel guerrillas, as well as terror attacks against Israel and Jews abroad.

Mandela elaborated that it was his impression that the moderate views of President Mohammed Khatami were gaining the upper hand in Iran.

Mandela also said Khatami told him there was no evidence linking 13 detained Iranian Jews to spy charges – suggesting they would likely be freed. Western nations have been pressing Iran to free the Jews, who have been imprisoned without trial for months.

Mandela left Jerusalem for Gaza, where he is wrapping up his Mideast tour with a visit with a man he called his "old friend" – Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Arafat and Mandela supported each other's struggles for self-determination over the years.

Arafat kissed Mandela on the forehead when he arrived at Gaza airport. The airport was lined with children who held up signs reading "We have a common dream – a free land."

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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