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Barak expects stability in Syria

TEL AVIV, Israel, June 11 -- Israeli Prime Minister Prime Ehud Barak Sunday told his cabinet he expected the situation in Syria to be stable "in the immediate term," but the Middle East will no longer be the same following Syrian President Hafez Assad's death.

"In the immediate term, it appears that the situation will be stable," the Cabinet Secretariat reported Barak as having said. Reporters were told that military Chief of General Staff Lt. General Shaul Mofaz and chief of Intelligence Maj. General Amos Malka told the ministers that President-designate Bashar Assad, the deceased president's son, has established himself, and the regime is stable.

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"The system ... seems stable. There is no significant strategic change," Mofaz told the army radio station.

Tourism Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who had succeeded Barak as military chief of general staff before both turned to politics, said Hafez Assad had seen to a fairly orderly transition of power, and had almost completed those preparations. Bashar Assad has "very broad support in the army," he said.

Lipkin-Shahak said he expected Syria to focus its attention on strengthening support for Bashar Assad in Damascus and not on the border with Israel "at least not at this stage."

Hence the only readiness in the army is in the intelligence branch, the army radio reported.

Israeli leaders believe they are nevertheless facing a changing Middle East where the old guard is gradually being succeeded by a younger generation. In recent years such changes have affected Jordan, Morocco, and now Syria.

According to the cabinet statement Barak noted Hafez Assad's death marked the end of an era.

"We are facing a new Middle East," the Cabinet statement reported Barak as having said.

Barak reiterated Israel's wish for peace with Syria. Israel will continue working towards it, "While adhering to its vital interests."

Lipkin-Shahak noted the deceased president had legitimized the peace process, even though he did not complete it. That legitimacy is "very important especially to a new leader," he said.

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