51% of Syrians favor peace with Israel

But poll also shows 75% support funding Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah.

hizbullah 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
hizbullah 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Fifty-one percent of Syrians would favor a peace treaty with Israel if it withdraws from the Golan and recognizes Syrian sovereignty there, according to a rare poll of Syrians released Wednesday. In addition, 63% of Syrians said they favored their country working with the US to resolve the war in Iraq. By a slight 44% to 39% margin, most said they oppose fighters crossing from Syria into Iraq. Yet three-fourths said they support financial assistance for Iraqi fighters, the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah. The survey also found that an overwhelming number of Syrians consider trade and political relations with Western countries important, but they narrowly oppose closer ties to the US. The poll was sponsored by Terror Free Tomorrow, a bipartisan organization that seeks to erode support for international terrorism. Its advisory board includes Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, and the former leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker Thomas Foley, a Democrat. Earlier this month, the group released a survey of Iranians that found most favored their country developing nuclear weapons. Objective public opinion surveys are unusual in Syria, whose regime - led by President Bashar Assad - has imprisoned pro-democracy supporters. The United States has largely sought to isolate Syria, which it considers a major destabilizing influence in the Middle East. In addition, seven in 10 said Syria should refuse US investments and trade "to create more jobs in Syria," with similar numbers opposing US investments in energy refineries and US humanitarian aid. "Even though they don't support the US - in fact that's an understatement, they're very negative about the US - they still want to work with the US," said Ken Ballen, president of Terror Free Tomorrow. "They still want the war resolved, and they're willing for their government to work with the US to resolve it." Meanwhile, 88% said they favored Lebanon ruling itself without outside interference, including from Syria. Syria controlled Lebanon for years until its military was pressured to leave in 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The US has accused Syria of seeking to weaken Lebanon's Western-backed leaders. The telephone survey of 1,004 Syrian adults was conducted in Arabic for Terror Free Tomorrow by D3 Systems from July 11 to 14. An estimated 75% to 80% of Syrian households have landline telephones. The calls were made from a country near Syria that Terror Free Tomorrow did not identify, saying it wanted to protect the interviewers' confidentiality. Telephone interviews were used to speed the research process and because in-person questioners in Syria may face harassment, the group said. The survey has a sampling error margin of approximately 3.5 percentage points. The results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses reflected the actual number of Syrians living in rural areas, and those over age 55. Also Wednesday, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Defense Secretary Robert met regional leaders to promote the planned Middle East peace conference, Syrian President Bashar Assad reiterated that peace with Israel would only come with the return of "all occupied Syrian lands." "Our desire for peace does not mean at all abandoning our rights," Assad said in a televised speech to mark the Syrian national army day. "Syria's leadership, people and military will only accept the full return of the Golan Heights," he stated.