NEW YORK Syria used its membership in the U.N. Security Council yesterday to equate the September 11 terrorist attacks with Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes.
“Here we note the scene of tens of Palestinian houses that have been demolished by Israeli tanks in the Rafah a few days ago is not much different from the scene of the World Trade Center,” said Syrian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad, in his nation’s first address as a council member.
“Foreign occupation is the most brutal form of terrorism, therefore resisting such foreign occupation including particularly the Israeli occupation of occupied Arab territories in Palestine, Syrian Golan and southern Lebanon is a legitimate form of struggle.”
The remarks, at a daylong meeting of the council to discuss counterterrorism measures, shocked other members of the 15-nation council, whose speakers condemned the attacks that claimed more than 3,000 lives.
U.S. officials quickly called the remarks “unfortunate and outrageous” but declined to comment on the record, indicating it would not be helpful to criticize another council member publicly.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who is already on the way to the Middle East for a whirlwind tour, is expected to spend the next two days in Damascus, Syria, to meet with senior officials.
Most of the diplomats speaking at the session on terrorism yesterday repeated their support for effective deterrent measures, including the suppression of terrorist financing and stronger cooperation between intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.
Pakistani Ambassador Shamshad Ahmad also injected a political note into the session, criticizing India for “provoking a crisis in our region” and aspiring to “regional hegemony” by denying 13 million people in Indian-ruled Kashmir their right to self-determination.
British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, speaking as the chairman of the counterterrorism committee, rebuked nations for engaging in political rhetoric during a discussion on terrorism.
“Let us not muddy the important work of the counterterrorism committee by confusing these,” he said yesterday morning.
But the Arab-drawn line between terrorism and attacks aimed at Israel as the “occupying power” of the Palestinian territories has provoked consternation among Western diplomats and U.N. officials.
The dispute has prevented the organization from agreeing to a universal definition of terrorism, necessary for numerous pending counterterrorism treaties.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham, speaking before Mr. Mekdad, said a proposed U.N. resolution on terrorism “sets the standard that terrorism is unacceptable and is illegal and is to be opposed.”
“Nothing could be clearer, and all states now have the legal, as well as political and moral, obligation to act against it,” he said.
But the Moroccan ambassador, speaking on behalf of Arab nations, also criticized Israel for repeatedly violating human rights in the name of self-defense by starving, displacing and blockading Palestinian territories.
“Such practices, along with others, strike international public opinion and awaken its conscience,” Mohammed Bennouna said.
Speaking late yesterday afternoon, Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Lancry said he regretted Syria’s “baseless allegations.”
He said Mr. Mekdad’s statement was “a transparent attempt to divert attention from Syria’s own record as a country that supports, encourages, finances and harbors a vast gamut of terrorist organizations.”
Diplomats from Israel, the United States and several other Western nations said privately yesterday they expected more restraint and cooperation from a member of the U.N. Security Council than had been shown by the Syrian diplomat.