- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights — Israel yesterday bombed a target inside Syria that it said was an Islamic Jihad training base, striking deep inside its neighbor’s territory for the first time in three decades in the widening pursuit of Palestinian militants.

The raid was a new tactic in Israel’s attempts to curb militant activity. Closures, assassinations and military strikes in Palestinian areas have failed to stop suicide attacks, and Washington strongly opposes Israel’s threat to expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Israel said the bombing was a signal that it would pursue militants wherever they found support, adding that Iran also backs Islamic Jihad.

“Any country who harbors terrorism, who trains [terrorists], supports and encourages them will be responsible to answer for their actions,” government spokesman Avi Pazner said.

The strike was launched just hours before the start of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It also came on the eve of the anniversary of the 1973 war, when Israel fought off a Syrian attack aimed at reversing Israel’s 1967 seizure of the Golan Heights, a strategic border plateau. Yesterday marked Israel’s first military action deep in Syria since 1973.

The airstrike — a retaliation for a suicide bombing Saturday that killed 19 Israelis — alarmed the Arab world and deepened concerns that the Israeli-Palestinian violence, which has lasted three years, could spread in the region.

The Bush administration urged both sides to show restraint, but also said Damascus “must cease harboring terrorists and make a clean break from those responsible for planning and directing terrorist action from Syrian soil.”

With little option for military retaliation, Syria looked for international support. On requests from Damascus, the U.N. Security Council and the 22-member Arab League held emergency sessions yesterday as Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Sharaa sought measures to deter Israeli “aggression.”

Fayssal Mekdad, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, called on the council to adopt a resolution condemning the attack.

Israel continues “to flout the Charter of the United Nations to the point that Arabs and many people across the globe feel that Israel is above law,” Mr. Mekdad said.

Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman spoke immediately after Mr. Mekdad and defended the attack. He accused Syria of providing “safe harbor, training facilities, funding, logistical support” to terrorist organizations.

Britain joined France, Pakistan and other Security Council members in condemning the Israeli strike, but U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte said the measure would first have to be sent to all the members for study.

Mr. Negroponte made clear that the United States would not support the draft, saying it was not balanced by any condemnation of terrorist strikes against Israel.

Leaders of Islamic Jihad and other militant groups are based in Syria, but Jihad leaders yesterday denied having any training bases there. Syrian villagers near the targeted site said the camp had been used by Palestinian gunmen in the 1970s but had been abandoned — and was now used only by picnickers and other visitors to its spring and olive groves.

Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah told Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV that the Israeli attack was “a grave development that exceeded all rules of the game.” He also warned Israel that the Saturday suicide bombing “will not be the last resistance operation” by his group.

The Israeli attack at about 4:30 a.m. hit several targets at the Ein Saheb camp northwest of Damascus, Israeli security officials said. Hours later, plainclothes security officials banned journalists from approaching the camp. Dense trees blocked the site from view.

In Washington, Bush administration officials said Israel had not informed Washington of its strike plans.

Raanan Gissin, adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the base was financed by Iran and used by several terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Undated footage said to be of the camp, taken from Iranian TV and released by the Israeli military yesterday, showed a military officer conducting a tour of the camp. Hundreds of weapons, including grenades with Hebrew markings apparently captured from Israel, were displayed in a room.

Another group, the tiny Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command said it had once used the camp, 14 miles northwest of Damascus, but that it is now deserted.

However, a senior group member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that there is close cooperation between his group, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Lebanese guerrilla faction Hezbollah. The four train together, mostly in Lebanon, but also in Syria, he said.

In an understanding with the Syrian government, Hamas and Jihad leaders have been careful in recent months to give statements from Lebanon to avoid giving the impression that they still operate from Damascus.

Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the Saturday bombing. A 27-year-old Palestinian woman, identified as Hanadi Jaradat, blew herself up inside the beachfront restaurant Maxim, popular with Arabs as well as Jews. Fifty-five persons were wounded.


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