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Assad Accuses Israel of Attempting to Provoke a War


Following Israel's aerial strike against a terror base deep inside Syria, Syrian President Bashar el-Assad released a statement that "Israel is trying to drag Syria and the region into another war." El-Assad told the el-Hayat newspapers, "There is no doubt that Syria's presence in the area bothers Israel", and adding Israel continues trying to strike at Syria.

Sharon Warns That Israel Remains Ready to Strike at Enemies

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, says his country is ready at any time to strike its enemies, even across national boundaries. His comments come two days after Israeli warplanes targeted a suspected Palestinian terrorist base inside Syria.

Sharon issued his warning in the wake of Israel's bombing of a suspected Islamic Jihad training camp outside the Syrian capital, Damascus. The operation was the first inside Syria for 21 years and came in response to an Islamic Jihad suicide bombing on Saturday in Israel's port city of Haifa that killed at least 19 people.

Sharon made his comments in an address on Tuesday marking 30 years since the 1973 Middle East war. He said that Israel would not, in his words, be deterred from protecting its citizens and will strike its enemies in every place and in every way. To mark the anniversary, Israel Radio re-broadcast reports of the 1973 war, when hostile Arab States, including Syria, launched surprise attacks on the Jewish state.

Sharon said one of the lessons of the 1973 Middle East war is that Israel must be prepared to defend itself at all times. His remarks came shortly after Syrian President Bashar Assad accused Israel on Tuesday of trying to drag the Middle East into a new regional war.

President George Bush said he supported Israel's right to defend itself, but cautioned Sharon in a telephone conversation against taking any action that might cause an escalation of violence in the region. Meanwhile, Israel has moved up more troops to its northern frontier after one of its soldiers was killed by gunfire from Lebanon. Israel is holding Syria, which is the main power broker in Lebanon, ultimately responsible for the attack.

And in New York, a draft resolution condemning the air remains on hold at the U.N. Security Council. No date has been set for resuming debate on the measure. The Security Council met Monday, but adjourned without taking up Syria's demand that Israel be censured for bombing a suspected terrorist training camp near Damascus.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said Washington viewed the Syrian-sponsored resolution as unbalanced, and is waiting for Syria to submit a revised draft, before taking up the measure again. "We certainly thought the resolution is deficient in many respects. Most importantly, it fails to condemn terrorism on the one hand, and makes no reference to the suicide bombing attack in Haifa Saturday night. We think these are two enormous gaps in the Syrian proposal."

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Faisal Mekdad said Monday that revisions to the draft were being considered. But he admitted that the chances of getting a nine-vote majority on the Council - not to mention avoiding a U.S. veto -- are slim.

"Frankly speaking, the positions we have heard are not encouraging," said Mekdad. "On the issue of the Israeli attack, we must hear new position by the United States condemning the issue, not condoning Israeli attacks against Arabs, Syrians or Palestinians, and return to role of the United States as peace broker, as a reliable peace broker, that looks fairly at needs of Arab side, because the present policy is one-sided."

Background: Israel's New Dread is a Spreading of war to Syria

By Bradley Burston, Ha'aretz

Three years of blood running in its streets, restaurants, and demolished commuter buses have steeled Israelis to an astonishing range of horrors. Three years of grief and hopelessness in Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur observances had prompted many to hope that, if nothing else, they had already been witness to the worst.

But as they marked the 30th anniversary of the most emotionally devastating war in their history, Israelis emerged from the solemn Yom Kippur fast with a new fear on the horizon: the prospect that the actions of their own government could drastically widen an already unbearable war.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet was called out of Yom Kippur recess over the weekend, pressed to retaliate with speed and ferocity to the shock of an Islamic Jihad suicide bombing in which a young Palestinian woman tore to shreds a Haifa restaurant popular with both Arab and Jewish families. The attack annihilated whole families and devastated entire communities, Arab and Jewish alike.

Loath to suffer the diplomatic consequences of expelling or harming its celebrity captive Yasir Arafat, the government activated a plan first approved after a deadly summer bus bombing in Jerusalem, and held in ready reserve until Sunday.

Evading Syrian air defenses, Israeli warplanes struck near Damascus, bombing an area that the army later identified as a training camp which has served fighters recruited by a host of groups, including the Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Syria, though denying journalists access to the site, maintained in careful, somewhat obscure language that the bombed area was not a training camp but a "civilian area that had once been used by Palestinians."

To Israelis jittery over the possibility of wider conflict, Sharon had few words of solace in his speech at the national military cemetery on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl. Addressing mourners of the fallen of the 1973 war in a speech broadcast live over nationwide radio networks, Sharon declared: "Israel will not be deterred from defending its citizens and will hit its enemies any place and in any way."

The remarks were little softened by a trailing pledge to continue to explore overtures for diplomatic negotiations. "At the same time we will not miss any opening and opportunity to reach an agreement with our neighbors and peace," Sharon said.

The Sunday air strike, launched as Israeli broadcasting services began going off the air for Yom Kippur, was the deepest Israeli air raid in Syria in three decades.

Sharon's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, hinted darkly Tuesday that Israel had coordinated with its ally Washington further steps against Damascus "in spheres to which Syria would be well advised to listen." There was no longer just cause to retaliate in "proportional responses," Olmert stressed, saying that no reprisal was proportional to the murder in cold blood of 19 innocent people, including children and babies. Israel would no longer be limited in its responses, he said.

Olmert said "the Americans have twice passed the Syrians very harsh warnings" regarding Syrian support for terrorism. "In my view, it would be very well worth the Syrians' while to pay attention to these warnings, because the price they could pay could be heavy."

Sharon, giving no quarter, told the mourners: "Israel's might must be drawn ready and prepared at every moment. We must always improve and foster the decisive, qualitative edge of that might, both in the spirit of our fighters and in the tools of warfare, as though the next war were just around the corner."

The 1973 war caught Israel disastrously unprepared. The prevailing security "conception," as it was known, held that the 1967 Six-Day War had dealt a blow of such magnitude that Arab armies would not dare mount an attack. Within hours of the attack on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, Oct. 6, 1973, Syrian armored columns poured across Israeli lines in the north, coming to a mysterious halt just as IDF brass voiced private fears that the capture of Haifa was imminent, and that the north might be overrun in its entirety.

The Yom Kippur War's real lesson, Sharon said, was that Israel could not afford to stake its security on "over-sophisticated assessments, on deterrent ability alone, or on agreements."

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