- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

NICOSIA, Cyprus Syria has started a major diplomatic effort to convince the world that it opposes terrorism despite being labeled by the State Department as aiding and abetting it.
In messages to several European, Middle Eastern and North African capitals, Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Foreign Minister Farouk Shara stressed Syria's "positive attitude" as a newly elected member of the U.N. Security Council.
Western diplomats point out, however, that while not actively participating in terrorism, Syria shelters several extremist Islamic organizations on its territory as well as in Lebanon, which it effectively controls.
Syria has backed the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, blamed for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. However, Syria stressed in diplomatic messages that it would prefer to see such action under a U.N. rather than a U.S. umbrella.
The theme in Syria's recent diplomacy is the need of an evenhanded approach to terrorism, that is not targeting Islamist extremists yet tolerating Israeli action against Palestinians.
After a meeting with Austrian President Thomas Klestil, Mr. Assad warned that "double standards are one of the reasons for the despair felt by many people in the world."
He told visiting Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou that "linking terrorism to Islam is a very dangerous act which might lead to a clash between cultures."
Following Syria's election to the Security Council, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell sent a message to Mr. Shara in which he expressed U.S. willingness to work with Syria under U.N. auspices to "restore security in the world."
Commented the Damascus daily Syria Times: "The Bush administration can do nothing right as long as the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people continues."
Syria's Security Council membership was hailed across the Arab world. Moroccan Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi said it was "a gain for the Arab nation and for all the people who love justice and peace."
As most Arab countries, the Syrian government has been trying to link its support for the war on the Taliban to the solution of the Middle Eastern problem. Syria itself refuses to participate in the peace process as long as Israel controls the Golan Heights, seized in the 1967 war.
Some of the comment of the Syrian press has been exceptionally virulent.
"The massacres carried out in the Palestinian areas do not distinguish between men, women and children. It is terror that surpasses the terror that targeted the United States last September," wrote Al-Baath, organ of Syria's ruling party.
The newspaper added:
"Individuals and outlawed organization were responsible for what happened in the United States, while the terror that is being carried out by Israel is officially sponsored state terrorism."
One Western assessment summarized Syria's recent actions as positioning itself on the side of the anti-terror coalition while continuing to shelter terrorist groups.
Among such groups are Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al Saiqa and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

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