For many years the Syrian regime held some 4,000 Jews as virtual hostages. They were not allowed to leave that country. The few who were allowed to travel on business had to post bail and leave members of their families behind. Israel sought for many years to secure international pressure on Syria to allow the Jews to emigrate. This was a central topic in the talks Israel had with Secretary Baker before the Madrid Peace Conference. The international effort bore fruit when in April 1992, President Assad acceded to American requests and permitted Jews to leave Syria provided they travel to the United States under a family unification scheme. The change of the Syrian policy was announced by President Bush. Text:
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
I am writing you with some very encouraging news. The Syrian government, knowing our continuing interest and concern about the status of the Syrian Jewish community, has just informed us that all members of the Syrian Jewish community will be permitted to travel abroad as families, whether for business or for vacations.
In addition, all difficulties encountered by Syrian Jewish citizens with regard to the sale or purchase of property will be removed.
While the Syrians have not changed their position that travel to Israel is illegal for Syrian citizens, the decision on travel nonetheless means that the door will now be open for any members of the Syrian Jewish community to leave Syria if they desire to do so. I look forward to the full implementation of the Syrian decision.
I am especially pleased that such a decision has been taken, particularly because both Secretary Baker and I have raised with President Assad the status of Syrian Jewry and the importance of Syrian Jews being permitted to leave Syria if they so desire.
Indeed, I believe our entreaties, and Secretary Baker's many lengthy discussions in Damascus, have contributed both to the Syrian decision to enter the peace negotiations and to this decision on the rights of Syrian Jewry.
I see this decision as representing another indicator of change and hope in the Middle East, and I pledge our continued commitment to doing all we can to promote genuine, reconciliation and peace in the region.
Sincerely, George H.W. Bush