Wednesday, February 16, 2005

U.S. must not be so quick to point finger at Syria

In the aftermath of a deadly bomb in Beirut that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 16 others, the United States recalled its ambassador to Damascus and is now demanding that Syria's 15,000+ troops pull out of Lebanon and stop its alleged support of terrorism.

In addition, Condoleeza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, has implied that the United States may impose further sanctions against Syria. Last year, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions against Syria for its failure to adhere to September's UN resolution. Syrian officials have denied any involvement in the incident and have turned the spot light on Israel, whom they say, stands to gain politically with the death of Hariri.

Granted, all media sources are being used to push each country's claim of non-involvement and although U.S. media is quick to scorn less legitimate sources, every report should be taken into account for its accuracy so that decisions leading up to any action against Syria must be as accurate as possible.

Where will this latest attempt for a power struggle lead us? How heavily will the United States play its hand? Having to deal with Iraq and recently, Iran, will it have the fortitude to deal with Syria in a hostile manner? Additionally, the U.S. must have a growing concern of reports that Russia is selling missles to Syria.

According to CNN, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday Syria was "unfortunately on a path right now where relations are not improving, but are worsening".

Rice did not blame Syria for Monday's bomb attack that killed Hariri and 16 others, but she did challenge Syria's longstanding claim that its troops were needed in Lebanon to provide security.

"There is no doubt that the conditions created by Syria's presence there have created a destabilized situation in Lebanon," she said.

Syria's Ambassador to the U.S., Imad Moustapha, was quick to return the verbal blows.

"If anyone is trying to politically score some points against Syria, I would say ... this would be shameful," he told CNN.

"It should be very clear to everyone that if anybody is insinuating about a Syrian role in the criminal atrocity that happened in Beirut, I think they are lacking logic," he said.

In a thinly-veiled jab at Washington, he said accusations that Syria is supporting terrorism are akin to the claims, later disproved, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the war.

"Syria does not support terrorism. We have said this time and again," he said.

When asked about possible additional sanctions on Syria, Rice said, "we will continue to consider what other options are at our disposal".

It is a known fact that the UN resolution passed last September made it clear "that foreign troops need to be withdrawn from Lebanon," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said at a briefing.

"Syria's continued presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force in the region and a destabilizing force in Lebanon. Syria's continued support for terrorism is a problem, it is a concern that we have expressed directly to the government of Syria," he said.


By Al Jazeera

- - While the opposition to the pro-Syrian government in Beirut claimed that Syria was behind the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al Hariri, the Syrian media on Tuesday pointed the finger of suspicion at Israel.

"What happened was an attempt to shatter national unity in Lebanon, to sow anarchy and divisions which lead to a climate of civil war," said government newspaper Tishrin.

Israel "continues to work to sabotage Lebanon's achievements to try to bring anarchy to the country and to be able to continue its occupation of the Shebaa Farms", a disputed strip of land along the Israeli border, the newspaper added.

Meanwhile, several Arab analysts say that Syria itself was also targeted by Hariri's assassination.

"Syria certainly did not need to complicate the situation, just when it is already in the firing line" over UN Resolution 1559, Rauf Ghoneim, a former Egyptian deputy foreign minister, said.

According to several political analysts, Al Hariri’s assassination is aimed at drowning Lebanon in another civil war. Arab commentators called on Lebanon on Tuesday to unite against such threat, with some suggesting that Israel has greatly benefited from the death of Al Hariri.

On the other hand, the Arab League called on the Lebanese people not to jump to conclusions about the assassination.

Al-Gomhuria daily, Egypt's state-owned said the assassination aimed to "subvert the interests of the Lebanese people, undermine their solidarity and shake their will".

"Lebanese people should throw their ethnic and religious differences behind them and strive for unity," it said.

Other analysts suggested that Al Hariri’s death was a part of a bigger plan aimed at fueling tension and spreading chaos in the region already shaken by Iraq war, where some fear a sectarian civil war similar to that which tore Lebanon apart from 1975 to 1990.

"There is a conspiracy to spread anarchy in the region," said Essam el-Erian, a leading member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Although the former Lebanese Prime Minister had recently joined calls for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, Arab commentators insisted his death did not benefit Syria.

"For sure, it is not in Syria's interest for Lebanon to be rocked by such a massive security breach. After all Syria is responsible for Lebanon's security," the leading Saudi newspaper al-Watan said in an editorial.

Meanwhile, Iran said Israel is the only state that has the resources to carry out such attack. According to initial reports, the bomb which killed Hariri had the explosive power of 300 kg of dynamite.

"An organised terrorist entity like that of the Zionist regime has the capability to carry out such operations and it targets breaking unity and solidarity in Lebanon," a state-owned Iranian newspaper quoted the foreign ministry as saying.


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