Thu, Dec 26, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Iraq has moved weapons to Syria, Sharon claims

AFP , JERUSALEM

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday he had information that Iraq recently transferred weapons of mass destruction to Syria while Iraq expressed confidence it will come clear after UN inspections.

"There is information we are verifying. But we are certain that Iraq has recently moved chemical or biological weapons into Syria," Sharon told the private Channel Two television station.

"Saddam Hussein wanted to hide his weapons, and I think that the Americans know that," said the Israeli leader, who has strongly backed US threats to topple the Iraqi leader's regime over its alleged weapons off mass destruction programs.

He added that "Iraqi experts and scientists are working in the nuclear industry in Libya" and recalled that Israeli forces had recently arrested members of a Palestinian militant group in the West Bank who had allegedly received training in Iraq.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein said in a nationwide broadcast message he was confident the outcome of the inspection operations "will be a big shock to the US and will expose all American lies, if things remain on a technical and professional course with no hidden agendas."

"Then the world will discover the falsehood of the US claims and see the real intentions of wickedness and perfidy harbored by US officials," Saddam Hussein said.

Both the US and Britain, two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, have already said gaps in Iraq's arms declaration were a "material breach" of the resolution, which could trigger military action.

The Iraqi leader also referred to the "growing" military threat against his regime and repeated Baghdad's allegation that Washington and its allies -- "the forces of evil" -- were really after the nation's oil wealth.

"It is in this context the American-Zionist campaign against Iraq is being launched, while the tone of a threatened, large-scale military aggression against our peace-loving people is growing louder," he said.

UN weapons inspectors would find no evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear arms program if they "rid themselves of pressures put on them by the United States, Britain and Zionism."

As talk of war built a head of steam, a top Israeli army commander said the US would attack Iraq at the start of February.

Major General Aharon Zeevi, chief of army intelligence, told a parliamentary committee he expected war to begin just after the US administration reviews a UN weapons inspectors report, due to be submitted by January 27, according to the daily newspaper Haaretz.

Meanwhile, Baghdad reveled in Monday's shooting down of an unmanned US drone in the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

Ruling Baath Party official Saad Qassem Hammudi that the "heroic operation" that led to the shooting down of the drone aircraft was just a taste of things to come for any invaders of its territory.

"It's a message that any assault against Iraq will not be the picnic they imagine," he said, adding the operation demonstrated Iraq's ability to stand up to sophisticated technology.

Washington has already deployed 65,000 troops to the Gulf region, with another 50,000 due in January.

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