Between the Mediterranean and the Tigris, a nation struggles to shake hands with Israel

If there is a clue to the future of Middle East peace, it may be in the fresher look that President Hafez Assad's defiant old regime is sporting these days. Almost gone are the giant Orwellian portraits of the Syrian leader that once seemed to loom over every traffic intersection. Instead, less threatening pictures of Assad's son and heir apparent Bashar, 34, decorate billboards and shopwindows from the Damascus suq to the Mediterranean coast. The favorite depicts Assad in an almost holy trinity with Bashar and Basil, Assad's idealized eldest boy and chosen successor until his car-crash death in 1994. Syrians...

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