- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 11, 2003

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria yesterday said relations with the United States were deteriorating because of an Israeli air strike, and warned it has the right to defend itself if Israel attacks again.

The Foreign Ministry comment came nearly a week after Israeli warplanes bombed a camp outside Damascus Oct. 5, saying it was a training camp for the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad. The group had claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Israel the day before that killed 19 persons.

“Syria has the right to exercise its right to self-defense … in all available ways,” Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Bushra Kanafani told reporters in Damascus.

She declined to elaborate on what means Syria would use, saying self-defense has different forms.

Mrs. Kanafani also said relations between Syria and the United States were worse than they had been for years because of U.S. support of Israel.

Syria presented a motion to the U.N. Security Council calling on it to condemn Israel, but the council postponed a vote. The United States has warned it would veto any motion that did not also condemn the suicide bombing.

“When the United States says that Israel is defending itself when it attacks an abandoned civilian target under untrue pretexts and threatens to use its [U.N.] veto against condemnation … this will have negative results on relations,” Mrs. Kanafani said.

She said the camp targeted by Israel was abandoned by Palestinian militants years ago.

Tensions have been rising in recent months between the United States and Syria, mainly over Iraq. The United States says Syria lets insurgents slip across the border to fight coalition soldiers.

Mrs. Kanafani denied those claims, saying it is difficult to control such a long border. She hinted that Syria could help calm the situation in Iraq.

“Syria has many friends in Iraq and … we can play a constructive role in the advancement in the chaotic situation in Iraq,” she said. “Cutting the dialogue with Syria, accusing Syria of raising problems through people going through the border is not going to help our constructive role in Iraq.”

On Wednesday, Congress gave preliminary approval for sanctions to be imposed on Syria, a move that Western diplomats said could lead to more damaging U.S. measures. The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act accuses Syria of sponsoring terrorists, seeking weapons of mass destruction and occupying Lebanon with more than 20,000 troops.

Mrs. Kanafani said “those who are concerned about punishing Syria in the United States are specific groups who work for Israel first and for the interest of America after that.”

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