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The current warming of relations between Syria and Israel is being felt at the University at Buffalo, which is sponsoring a four-week academic tour of Syria next summer.

Billed as the first American summer-study program to include both Syria and Jordan, it will run from July 5 to Aug. 12 through UB's World Languages Institute.

A dozen students and teachers from across the United States will spend the first week in Amman, Jordan, and the next four in Damascus, Syria, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, said Mark A. Ashwill, director of the institute.

The study program "is designed to give participants a unique opportunity to learn about Jordan, Syria and the Arab world in formal and informal settings," said Ashwill. "In doing so, the program aims to dispel certain myths in American popular culture that portray Arabs as rich, terrorists, backward, anti-Western and/or anti-American."

Ashwill added that visiting two Arab countries will help the travelers discover the social, political, economic and religious diversity of the Arab world.

In Syria, the Americans will spend five days living with families to gain first-hand knowledge of family relations, cuisine and religious practices. They also will be paired with students from the University of Damascus to exchange information and ideas. And they will tour ancient sites and the famous Damascus bazaar.

They also will have opportunities to meet prominent religious, cultural and government leaders, Ashwill said, because "Jordanian and Syrian authorities see in American students a special opportunity to make a lasting and positive impression."

Directing the program will be Issa Roustum, a native of Syria and lecturer of Arabic in the World Languages Institute. He also teaches at School 45, where the students, including nearly 100 Arab-Americans, represent three dozen countries of origin.

"We may possibly spend a day and night with my family, which has three or four houses on a beach front at Tartous, on the coast of the Mediterranean," said Roustum. "Syria is very safe for Americans to visit. President (Hafez) Assad is serious, as well as the rest of the Syrian population and government, about having peace with justice for everyone in the area."

The UB summer program is open to students and graduate students at UB and other colleges as well as to faculty and public school teachers with a keen interest in the Arab world.

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