- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The House today is scheduled to debate the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, which authorizes President Bush to impose tough new sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. The legislation, which has more than 280 House sponsors, bars all dual-use and military exports to Syria and requires the president to impose sanctions so long as Damascus continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, support terrorists and occupy Lebanon.

The bill, introduced by a bipartisan coalition led by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, and Eliot Engel, New York Democrat, passed the House International Relations Committee last week by a 33-2 vote. It requires the president to impose two of the following sanctions: a freeze on Syrian assets in the United States; a ban on all American business investment in Syria; a restriction on the movement of Syrian diplomats in the United States; a ban on all U.S. exports to Syria except food or medicine; a reduction of diplomatic contact with Syria; and a ban on Syrian aircraft entering the United States.

To lift the sanctions, the president must certify that Syria has expelled terrorists, withdrawn troops from Lebanon, ended its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, and dropped its support for insurgents who target American troops in Iraq. The Bush administration has quietly dropped its opposition to the bill.

Given Syria’s behavior, it is easy to see why Congress and the administration have run out of patience. In May, Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Damascus to demand that Mr. Assad halt his support for the many terrorist groups operating from Syrian soil, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) — groups responsible for carrying out many of the more than 100 suicide bombings against Israel over the past three years. Mr. Assad promised to do something, but in fact did nothing. The terrorism continued, culminating in the Oct. 4 bombing of a restaurant in Haifa, Israel by the PIJ, in which 19 Israelis were killed.

Despite the fact that, since late March, President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials have repeatedly warned Syria to stop supporting Iraqi radicals, Damascus has remained defiant. Ambassador Paul Bremer, the senior U.S. official in Baghdad, said last month: “The number of third-country national detainees we have is 278, of which 123 are from Syria. And, we believe that there are rat lines, as they call them, from Syria into Iraq, where both fighters, and, in many cases, terrorists, are still coming in.” Time magazine reports that U.S. officials believe that as much as $3 billion in Iraqi assets — possibly part of Saddam Hussein’s financial fortune — is sitting in banks controlled by the Syrian government.

Western diplomats in Beirut told the London Daily Telegraph last week that Syria plans to use the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah as a “forward defensive shield” against Israel, that it is preparing to equip that group with SA-18 surface-to-air missiles to target Israeli war planes. Hezbollah (which is also supported by Iran) warns that rejectionist forces are moving towards “regional war.” By approving the Syria accountability legislation, the House can make it clear that Syria’s boy dictator is on the wrong side in the conflict.

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