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THE WORLD

Israel Says Syria Partly to Blame for Bus Blast

June 07, 2002|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — Israel accused Syria on Thursday of indirect responsibility for this week's suicide bombing of a bus in northern Israel and "brazen" defiance of recent anti-terrorism resolutions of the Security Council, where Syria's ambassador now sits as president.

Islamic Jihad, a militant group that has its headquarters in Damascus, the Syrian capital, claimed responsibility for the bus bombing, which killed 17 Israelis on Wednesday.

"Islamic Jihad, along with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, are but two of the numerous internationally recognized terrorist groups to which the Syrian government has long provided safe haven and financial and logistical support," the Israeli government said Thursday in a letter to Mikhail Wehbe, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations.

The letter was signed by Yehuda Lancry, the Israeli ambassador, and distributed to all 15 members of the Security Council. Wehbe is the council president for June.

"Yesterday's attack comes at the precise moment that Syria holds the rotating presidency of the council, and at a time when the fight against terrorism is at the top of the council's agenda," Lancry wrote. "It is astounding that Syria is brazenly supporting attempts to subvert the anti-terrorist objectives of an international body of which it itself is president."

The Syrian mission here did not respond Thursday to requests for comment. But in remarks to reporters here this week, Wehbe defended what he called his nation's "commitment" to the U.N. counter- terrorism campaign, citing President Bashar Assad's swift public condemnation of "the tragedy of the 11th of September."

In a clear reference to Palestinian attacks against Israelis, however, Wehbe said that Syria does not classify as terrorism those acts of violence "by he who is defending his country, defending his home."

Security Council resolutions adopted after Sept. 11 require all U.N. member states to ensure that their territories are not used to provide political, financial or other support for terrorist organizations.

But the U.N. has failed to agree on a definition of terrorism, and its sanctions against terrorist organizations are confined to groups and individuals said to be linked to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.

Neither Islamic Jihad nor Hezbollah is officially listed by the U.N. as a terrorist organization, though both are designated as such by the Bush administration.

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