Syrian President Says Israelis Worse Than Nazis

Syrian President Bashar Assad held out little hope of reaching a peace deal with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, reiterating accusations Thursday that the Israelis have surpassed the Nazis in their racism.

Speaking to reporters in Spain on the second day of his European tour, Assad said "Israeli racism surpasses Nazism."

He cited the recent killing of hundreds of Palestinians by Israeli troops, calls from within Israel to eliminate Palestinians from the region and for those living in Israel to wear distinctive tags as Jews did in Nazi Germany as examples.

"I leave it to you to decide whether this is racism or civilization," Assad said, echoing remarks he made at an Arab summit in March. Assad has repeatedly likened Israelis' treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis' treatment of Jews.

Assad was in Spain for bilateral talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and to discuss Syria's bid for an associate accord with the European Union. On Friday Assad continues to Paris, then Berlin.

It was the Syrian leader's first visit to the West since taking power last year following the death of his father, Hafez Assad.

Asked by reporters if he thought Syria could sign a peace accord with Israel, Assad said the Israelis' election of Sharon and the country's refusal to adhere to U.N. resolutions did not spur optimism.

"All that we have seen shows the Israelis have no time for peace with the Arab nations," Assad said, speaking through a Spanish interpreter.

Tension with Syria has increased since Israel bombed a Syrian radar station in Lebanon last month, retaliating for attacks by Syrian-supported guerrillas.

Assad also ruled out the possibility of signing a deal between Israel and Syria that would not include resolution of the Palestinian problem, saying "fragmentation would lead to greater tension in the region."

He also dismissed the recent Jordanian-Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire as "just talk."