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Militants Say Offices Remain Open in Syria

May 05, 2003|From Times Wire Services

DAMASCUS, Syria — Several radical Palestinian factions said it was business as usual for their offices on Sunday, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Syria had begun to clamp down on them.

"This is just talk, it's a storm in a cup because we are merely media offices," Abu Jihad Talaat of Islamic Jihad told Reuters.

"The position of [Syrian President] Dr. Bashar Assad is very clear toward the Palestinian people's rights."

Islamic Jihad has claimed many suicide attacks during the 31-month-old Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying it is legitimate to resist Israeli occupation. It says its office in Damascus, the Syrian capital, plays no part in such attacks.

After talks with Assad on Saturday, Powell said Syria had taken some measures to rein in militant Palestinian groups, carrying out some "closures," but he gave no details.

In addition to Islamic Jihad, the other groups are Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

Meanwhile, Powell defended his trip to Syria against criticism from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, saying it was a necessary trip ordered by President Bush.

In an April 22 speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Gingrich lambasted the State Department, saying its Middle East policy "will clearly throw away all the fruits of hard-won victory" from the Iraq war.

Referring to the meetings with Assad, the Georgia Republican said that to meet "with a terrorist-supporting, secret police-wielding dictator is ludicrous."

"Mr. Gingrich was taking a broad swipe and a shot at the policies of the president of the United States," Powell said.

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