Syrian president begins second term

Al-Assad calls on Israel to return the Golan Heights and make peace with Syria.

    Al-Assad, the sole candidate in a referendum in May,  secured 97 per cent of the vote
    Damascus has demanded the return of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since the 1967 war and annexed unilaterally in 1981.
    "We want Israel's leaders to give guarantees that all of our land will be returned," said al-Assad.
    Al-Assad won his second term in a referendum in May, in which he secured 97 per cent as the sole candidate. His critics dismissed the poll as a sham.
    Al-Assad first took office in 2000 after the death of Hafez al-Assad, his father, who ruled Syria for three decades.
    The country's Baath party, which has ruled Syria under emergency law since it came to power in 1963, increased its presence in parliament after the referendum, which was boycotted by the opposition.
    Syria is facing pressure from the US which accuses Syria of fomenting unrest in Iraq.
    Bassam Abdel Majid, Syria's interior minister, told a televised news conference that al-Assad had managed international relations "while remaining faithful to national causes".
    "Syria has undergone all sorts of pressure to renounce its national stand but it has remained true to its positions, allowing it to overcome challenges," he said.
    The US has also called for Syria to stop interfering in neighbouring Lebanon, which is in the midst of a paralysing political standoff between pro- and anti-Syrian factions.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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