AMMAN, JORDAN, JAN. 3 -- In the absence of prospects for a political solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Jordan expects more violence between Palestinians and the Israelis occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Zeid Rifai said today.
Rifai said that recent Palestinian demonstrations in the Israeli-occupied territories, in which 23 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops, were "a spontaneous reaction of the people refusing continued occupation without any hope of a settlement in sight."
"We believe that as long as there is no peace process, as long as there is no chance of a settlement in sight, what happened in the West Bank and Gaza is only a beginning," Rifai warned in an interview.
The prime minister also said that Syria, the only Arab state backing Iran in the Persian Gulf war, is slowly improving relations with Iraq and has been urging Iran to avoid widening the war.
Rifai expressed the belief that "the only way to arrive at a peaceful settlement" in the Middle East was through a United Nations-sponsored peace conference that would be attended by all parties to the conflict and the five permanent Security Council members -- the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France and China.
A conference, long advocated by Jordan, would convene to implement Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. They call for Israel to withdraw from Arab territories it seized in the 1967 war, and they recognize the right of Israel and other states in the region to exist within secure boundaries.
Israeli Prime Miniser Yitzhak Shamir has rejected the idea of such a conference, saying it would constitute a forum for pressing Israel to give up occupied Arab land.
The Palestine Liberation Organization, which is considered by Arab countries the only legitimate representative of the Palestinians, has called for such a conference but rejected Resolution 242 as the only basis for it, on the grounds that it makes no mention of the Palestinians or their national rights. Israel opposes PLO participation in the conference.
"Perhaps as a result of the Israeli position, the U.S. government has not taken a firm stand, public position on the international conference," Rifai said.
Relations between Syria and Iraq, two countries that have been implacable foes for a decade, "are moving slowly but surely and in the right direction toward normalization," in the wake of the Arab summit conference held in Amman in November, said Rifai.
At the summit, Syria agreed to join an Arab statement condemning Iran for the continuation of the seven-year-old Iran-Iraq war and Iranian occupation of Iraqi land.
Jordan, which ended its own feud with Syria in 1985 after Rifai became prime minister, has sought to bring Syria and Iraq closer together.
Syria was using its relations with Iran to contain the gulf war, said Rifai. "It was agreed at the summit that any contact with Iran should not be kept secret and that the concerned Arab countries should be informed of them," he added.
Referring to recent visits to Saudi Arabia and Iran by Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa, Rifai said, "I believe what's happening now is that our Syrian brothers are briefing the gulf states as to the results of their contacts with the Iranians."
Jordan has not received any request to send military advisers or troops to any Arab countries in the gulf to help counter threats of possible Iranian attack, said Rifai, but it would be willing to "do everything possible to help in every way we can."