Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Syria demands UN censure of Israeli strike

AP , UNITED NATIONS

Syrian pupils from the city of Halab look at a downed Israeli F-4 Phantom jet fighter from the 1973 Arab-Israeli war at the October 6 Museum in Damascus on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Syria demanded that the UN Security Council condemn Israel's airstrike against a purported terrorist training camp near Damascus, but the US said it would not support any resolution that does not also criticize attacks against Israel.

At an emergency meeting called at Syria's request Sunday, most council diplomats spoke out against both the airstrike and the suicide bombing in the Israeli port city of Haifa that killed 19 people and prompted Israel's retaliation.

However, US Ambassador John Negroponte focused his condemnation on the Haifa attack, while blaming Syria for harboring terrorists.

"The United States believes that Syria is on the wrong side of the war on terrorism," he said. "We believe it is in Syria's interest, and in the broader interest of Middle East peace, for Syria to stop harboring and supporting the groups that perpetrate acts such as the one that occurred yesterday" in Haifa.

The attack on Sunday was the first Israeli strike deep within Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and it alarmed other Middle Eastern nations.

The Arab League said the bombing "exposes the deteriorating situation in the region to uncontrollable consequences, which could drag the whole region into violent whirlpool."

The Islamic militant group Hamas said it fired 16 mortar shells at Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip overnight in retaliation for the Israeli airstrike. The Israeli army said it was checking the claim. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Hamas also said it would carry out more attacks in Israel.

"Any aggression against an Arab or Islamic country is an aggression against the Palestinian people and, God willing, our response to this aggression will be decisive," read a statement on a Hamas Web site.

"We call on our fighters ... to respond quickly, and in the heart of the Zionist entity, to this serious escalation," it said.

The George W. Bush administration urged restraint in the Middle East. Bush telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to offer condolences for the Haifa bombing and the two agreed on a need to continue fighting terrorism and "on the need to avoid heightened tension in the region at this time," said Ken Lesius, a White House spokesman.

It seemed unlikely Syria would retaliate. It has 380,000 active duty soldiers, but Israel holds a commanding technological edge. Israel is more worried about Syria's growing missile program and its ability to launch chemical and poison weapons into Israel's cities.

Leaders of Islamic Jihad and other militant groups are based in Syria, but Jihad on Sunday denied having any training bases there. Syrian villagers near the targeted site in Ein Saheb, 23km northwest of Damascus, said the camp had been used by Palestinian gunmen in the 1970s but was later abandoned -- and was now only used by picnickers and other visitors to its spring and olive groves.

Plainclothes security officials banned journalists from approaching the camp. Dense trees blocked the site from view.

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