- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

The United States has reminded Syria of its obligation to protect American citizens after threats against U.S. interests issued by Palestinian radicals in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
The action reflects concern about an anti-American backlash in the Arab world stemming from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Several Arab leaders have complained of a U.S. tilt toward Israel, and crowds protesting the Israeli assassination on Monday of Palestinian leader Abu Ali Mustafa have also blamed the United States.
Maher Taher, spokesman of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was quoted in Damascus on Monday as saying: "We ask the Arab world to hit American interests, because of U.S. participation in the extermination of the Palestinian people."
Mr. Mustafa was the leader of the PFLP.
Asked yesterday about the threat, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "There have been contacts overnight with the Syrian government. …
"We're calling on the Syrian government to exercise restraint over groups that it allows on Syrian territory. … We hold the Syrian government responsible for the safety and security of Americans in Syria."
Nevertheless, he said U.S. officials were confident that security measures installed since the eruption of the Palestine uprising last September could meet any new threat.
Despite the warning, Syria's ruling National Progressive Front yesterday said that U.S. bias toward Israel was harming American interests in the region and undermining its role as a broker of the peace process.
"The NPF found that the recent positions by the U.S. administration were disappointing and regrettable," said a NPF official who was quoted by Reuters news agency.
"This dangerous development will inflict grave harm to U.S. interests in the region and undermine the role of the U.S. as a sponsor for the peace process," he said.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's leading foreign-policy adviser issued a similar warning in Washington this month. Osama Baz said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was harming American interests in the Arab world, which views the United States as Israel's ally.
U.S. administrations from Truman to Eisenhower to the present Bush administration have tried to balance support for Israel's security with keeping good relations with the oil-rich and highly volatile Arab world.
Despite initial expectations that the Bush foreign-policy team, which includes Vice President Richard B. Cheney and others with past ties to Arab oil interests, might tilt more to the Arab side, President Bush has refused to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and repeatedly called on him to make a "100 percent effort" to halt violence.
Mr. Bush and the State Department have also called on Israel to use restraint in responding to attacks, and have objected to targeted killings, such as that of Mr. Mustafa. Still, many Arabs are convinced the United States is backing Israel.
"We used to say there is a vacuum of policy, but it is now clear there is a negative [U.S.] policy toward the Palestinian people, which blames them for everything and declares Israel above the law," Hanan Ashrawi, Arab League spokeswoman and Palestinian lawmaker, said Sunday.
Jordanian Information Minister Salah Kallab said he feared that recent remarks by Mr. Bush "throw responsibility for the violence on the Palestinians, and constitute encouragement to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to pursue the escalation" of violence.
A State Department official tried yesterday to ease Arab concerns.
"We are being careful not to give a complete green light" to Israel to use heavy American weapons against the Palestinians, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
However, Mr. Boucher refused to say that the use of F-16s and other U.S.-produced weapons violated the terms of sale, which allow such weapons to be used only to maintain internal control and for legitimate self-defense.

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