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Israel Praises Britain's Drive Against Syria

October 27, 1986|OSWALD JOHNSTON and DAN FISHER | Times Staff Writers

JERUSALEM — Senior Israeli officials Sunday praised Britain's decision to break relations with Syria over the attempted bombing of an Israeli jetliner in London, and they offered the use of Israeli airspace for British flights that have been denied access to Syrian air corridors in a retaliatory action.

Israeli sources also said that Israeli electronic surveillance of conversations between Damascus and Syria's London embassy contributed to what British Foreign Office officials have called the "conclusive" case against Syria as a participant in the bomb plot.

Foiled by Security Man

Israeli intelligence analysts supported the allegation that Nezar Hindawi, a Jordanian national convicted of attempting to place a bomb aboard an El Al Israel Airlines jumbo jet at London's Heathrow Airport last April, reported directly to the chief of Syrian air force intelligence. The plot was uncovered when an El Al security man detected a bomb in the luggage of the would-be saboteur's pregnant girlfriend just before she boarded the London-to-Tel Aviv flight.

Israel radio reported Sunday night that Israeli Transportation Minister Chaim Corfu has offered to open Israeli airspace to the 70 or so weekly commercial British flights affected by Syria's retaliatory action.

Corfu is also preparing a complaint on Syria's role in the bombing attempt to be submitted to the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, a ministry spokeswoman said.

Other Nations Urged to Act

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, in an interview with a West German newspaper, called on all countries to follow Britain's lead and break off relations with Syria, United Press International reported.

"All countries should follow this example," Shamir told the Bild newspaper in an interview released Sunday. He said terrorists receive weapons through diplomatic couriers who are not subject to search.

"The diplomatic courier is the best means of transporting weapons," Shamir said. "Diplomatic immunity and privileges are being used to support terrorism. This must be stopped."

Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh denied British accusations that Hindawi was assisted in the attempted bombing by the Syrian Embassy in London.

At the same time, Shareh minimized Syrian threats against Western countermoves aimed at Syrian-sponsored terrorism.

"We are not threatening," Shareh said on "Face the Nation," the CBS interview program. "We condemn terrorism," he added, explaining that Syria makes an exception for "legitimate struggle against Israeli occupation."

Ambassadors Return Home

In response to British charges of Syrian complicity in the attempted bombing, in which about 380 passengers--many of them Americans--could have perished, President Reagan on Friday withdrew the U.S. ambassador from Damascus. Canada also recalled its ambassador "for consultations," a somewhat less severe move.

Both ambassadors, William Eagleton of the United States and Jacques Noiseaux of Canada, left Damascus for home Sunday. Asked at the Damascus airport if he would ever return, Eagleton said he was "going to ask the same question to my superiors in Washington," the Associated Press reported.

In the television interview, Foreign Minister Shareh sought to minimize the import of Eagleton's departure, saying that "we consider this a normal step to be taken by the American Administration to consult with its ambassador in Damascus and to review the situation."

Again denying any Syrian complicity in the bombing attempt, Shareh said, "I am sure that the United States will very much look into the facts more than the mere statements given by the British government." He added: "I think the United States has not taken any measure against Syria."

He denied that Hindawi was assisted, as the British have charged, when he visited the Damascus regime's embassy in London, saying the Jordanian "was expelled immediately--thrown away from the Syrian Embassy."

Call for Unified Action

Also appearing on the CBS program was Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who stressed that recalling Eagleton was, in his view, "the first card" in a series of political moves to underline Syria's role as a key sponsor of terrorism throughout Europe and the Middle East.

He put special emphasis on a need for the United States, Britain and other European allies to work in concert against terrorism--a growing trend since the unilateral American bombing raid on Libya last April.

In London, meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe prepared to fly to Luxembourg today to meet foreign ministers of the 12-nation European Communities to seek their support for Britain's break with Syria.

"I think he (Howe) will be doing his best to convince our partners of the reasons for our actions," the AP quoted a Foreign Office spokesman as saying. "He will be looking for widespread collective action."

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