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Syria Disputes Charges It Makes Chemical Arms

January 14, 1988|CHARLES P. WALLACE | Times Staff Writer

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian government Wednesday disputed accusations that it is manufacturing chemical weapons in the desert north of Damascus.

A commentary broadcast by Damascus radio suggested that the accusations originated in Israel and were timed to divert international attention from the unrest in Israel's occupied territories.

"Exactly at this peculiar moment, some press circles from over the Atlantic and others with Zionist allegiance have begun marketing a new campaign against Syria under the false claim of production of internationally banned chemical weapons," the commentary said.

A front-page article in the Sunday Times of London said the Syrians had succeeded in manufacturing nerve-gas warheads for their Soviet-supplied SS-21 and Scud B ground-to-ground missiles, both of which can reach targets in Israel. The information in the article was attributed to Israeli officials.

The Sunday Times said the Israelis were considering the possibility of a preemptive strike against the manufacturing plant in order to deny the Syrians a first-strike capability.

The Syrian radio commentary condemned the United States for "joining the choir" aligned against Syria, citing State Department assertions that Syria has the capacity to produce chemical weapons.

"So Washington, which joined the propaganda efforts against Syria, was waiting for the right moment, especially after its frenetic campaign accusing Syria of terrorism," the commentary said. On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Charles Redman had said that the United States remains concerned about Syrian support for international terrorism.

Syrian authorities are also said to be deeply embarrassed by the revival this week of accusations of official Syrian involvement in the bombing of a West Berlin discotheque in April, 1986. The bomb killed two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish woman and wounded more than 200 people. On Monday, West German authorities arrested Christine Gabriele Endrigkeit, 27, for questioning about the bombing.

The timing was particularly embarrassing because the West German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, is scheduled to arrive here Saturday for his first visit since the 1986 bombing.

A spokesman for the West German Justice Ministry said the arrested woman is believed to have been employed by Ahmed Nawaf Mansour Hasi, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence in West Germany for carrying out another bombing. A court found that Hasi worked for Syria in planting the bomb in the office of an Arab-German friendship society.

Hasi's brother, Nezar Hindawi, was convicted by a British court of trying to place a bomb aboard an Israeli airliner in London in April, 1986. After the conviction, Britain broke relations with Syria, and the United States scaled back its diplomatic presence in Damascus and imposed sanctions.

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