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Israel Bombs Alleged Terror Base in Syria

By JAYSON KEYSER, Associated Press Writer

MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights - Israel bombed a target inside Syria that it claimed was an Islamic Jihad training base, striking deep inside its neighbor's territory Sunday for the first time in three decades and widening its pursuit of Palestinian militants.

The air strike a retaliation for a suicide bombing Saturday that killed 19 Israelis alarmed the Arab world and deepened concerns that three years of Israeli-Palestinian violence could spread through the region.

Washington urged both sides to show restraint but added a pointed criticism of Syria, saying Damascus "must cease harboring terrorists and make a clean break from those responsible for planning and directing terrorist action from Syrian soil."

With little option for military retaliation, Syria turned for international support. On requests from Damascus, the U.N. Security Council and the 22-member Arab League called emergency sessions for Sunday as Syria's foreign minister Farouq al-Sharaa sought measure to deter Israeli "aggression."

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 said the camp had been used by Palestinian gunmen in the 1970s but was later abandoned and was now only used by picknickers and other visitors to its spring and olive groves.

The raid was a dramatic new tactic for Israel in its attempts to stop Palestinian militants. Closures, assassinations and military strikes into Palestinian areas have failed to stop suicide attacks, and Washington strongly opposes expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (news - web sites) as Israel has threatened.

Israel said the bombing signalled it would pursue militants wherever they found support and it added an accusation that Iran also backs Islamic Jihad. "Any country who harbors terrorism, who trains (terrorists), supports and encourages them will be responsible to answer for their actions," government spokesman Avi Pazner said.

The strike was launched just hours before the start of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It also came on the eve of the anniversary of the 1973 war between Israel and Syria, when Israel fought off a Syrian attack aimed at reversing Israel's 1967 seizure of the Golan Heights, a strategic border plateau. Sunday marked Israel's first military action deep in Syria since 1973.

The Israeli attack at about 4:30 a.m. hit several targets at the Ein Saheb camp northwest of Damascus, Israeli security officials said. Hours later, plainclothes security officials banned journalists from approaching the camp. Dense trees blocked the site from view.

In Washington, Bush administration officials said Israel had not informed Washington in advance of its retaliatory strike.

Raanan Gissin, adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites), said the base was financed by Iran and used by several terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Undated footage said to be from the camp, taken from Iranian TV and released by the Israeli military on Sunday, shows a military officer conducting a tour of the camp. Hundreds of weapons, including grenades with Hebrew markings apparently captured from Israel, were displayed in one room. Underground tunnels were packed with arms and ammunition.

Another group, the tiny Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command said it once used the camp, 14 miles northwest of Damascus, but that it is now deserted. A civilian guard was injured in the air strike, the group said.

However, a senior Popular Front member, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that there is close cooperation between his group, Islamic Jihad, the militant group Hamas, and the Lebanese guerrilla faction Hezbollah. All four train together, mostly in Lebanon, but also in Syria, he said.

In an understanding with the Syrian government, Hamas and Jihad leaders have been careful in recent months to give statements from Lebanon to avoid the impression that they still operate from Damascus.

Still, Syrian President Bashar Assad is on the defensive, with the United States accusing him of hosting extremist groups and sponsoring terror.

Assad, after meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) in May in Damascus, indicated that his government had closed certain offices of Palestinian militant groups. However, last weekend, U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) said that "there is much more that Syria needs to do, and that message is being communicated to them."

Despite Syria's complaint to the United Nations (news - web sites), it seemed unlikely it would retaliate. Syria 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.

Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon three Arab countries border Israel condemned the air strike. "It can drag the whole region into a circle of violence," said Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also weighed in, saying the Israeli attack could destabilize the region even further.

Saturday's suicide bombing in Haifa had raised concerns Israel would carry out threats to expel Arafat, despite U.S. opposition.

In an apparent attempt to avert that possibility, Arafat on Sunday appointed an emergency Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

The United States, trying to put its peace efforts back on track, has in past days appeared willing to give Qureia a chance, and any Israeli action against Arafat could force Qureia's immediate resignation and cause chaos in the Palestinian areas.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for Saturday's bombing, in which a 27-year-old Palestinian woman, identified as Hanadi Jaradat, blew herself up inside the beach-front restaurant Maxim, popular with both Arabs and Jews. Fifty-five people were wounded.

Overnight, Israeli troops demolished the Jaradat family home in the West Bank town of Jenin in line with army practice.

The United States opposes expelling Arafat, and it appears Israel launched Sunday's air strike as an alternative response at least for now. It was dramatic enough to satisfy the Israeli public's demand for retaliation but was unlikely to endanger Israel's ties with Washington.


Israel says it may attack Syria

05/10/2003 12:23  - (SA)  

Jerusalem - Israel could launch new attacks on Syria if the country continues to shelter "terrorist organisations who are preparing anti-Israeli attacks", Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesperson said on Sunday.

"The attack carried out by our air force some 15 kilometres north of Damascus is a warning aimed at making Damascus understand that all those who abet and support terrorism no longer enjoy any immunity wherever they are," Raanan Gissin said.

"Syria can only blame itself because it refused to deliver on the commitments it made to the United States after the Gulf war to close down the headquarters of terrorist organisations based on its soil," he added.

Israeli said on Sunday its air force launched a raid on an Islamic Jihad training camp in Syria, in retaliation for a suicide bomb attack by the hardline Palestinian group which killed 19 people in the northern Isralei city of Haifa on Saturday.

The raid was the first direct attack by Israel on Syrian soil in some two decades.

Gissin stressed that "the training camp targeted 16 kilometres north of Damascus was used to train terrorists belonging to Islamic Jihad and Hamas".

"This base was financed and ideologically controlled by Iran," Gissin said.


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