Monday, October 6, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Israeli jets hit camp near Damascus
Haifa bomber’s house blown up; United Nations calls urgent meeting

Damascus, October 5
Syria said today an Israeli airstrike had targeted a civilian site near Damascus in a “grave escalation” of tension in West Asia and called for an immediate Security Council session. Israel has said the raid, which came the day after a suicide bomber killed 19 persons in an Israeli restaurant, was aimed at a training camp for “terrorist groups”.

In a letter to the United Nations, Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara said Syria was capable of deterring Israel, but would exercise restraint over the raid.

It was the first time Israel had struck so far inside Syrian territory since the 1973 Arab-Israel war. Syria and Israel are still technically at war.

Shara said in the letter: “The attack threatens security and peace in the region and internationally and could aggravate the deteriorating situation in the region into dire consequences that would be hard to control.”

“Syria has practiced the highest level of self-restraint realising that Israel is trying to create pretexts here and there to export its internal crisis to the region,” the letter said.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council has called an urgent meeting at the request of Syria. Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said he was asking the council to insist Israel stop such attacks. “We are asking the council to take measures to condemn such an Israeli attack, which is in direct violation of the U.N. Charter and norms of international law.’’

Israel said it did not intend to pick a fight with Damascus on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the 1973 war, but wanted the airstrike to serve as a warning to stop Palestinian militant groups from operating from Syrian territory.

Reports from Beirut say two persons were wounded in the Israeli attack on the Ain Saheb camp near the Syrian capital Damascus. A Palestinian official said on Sunday that they had been hurt in an Israeli raid on a camp belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Israel says the base was used by the Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad.

“Two men were slightly wounded. They are camp guards,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in Beirut.

He described the camp as a facility, adding that there were no training activities there. He did not say what it was used for.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing which killed 19 persons in the northern Israeli city of Haifa on Saturday. It has denied having any training camps in Syria.

The United States of America has been pressing Syria to meet a long-standing demand by Israel, its key regional ally, to close offices of radical Palestinian groups.

Damascus says offices belonging to groups that include Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PFLP are limited to media activity.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said last week Damascus was taking precautions “against every negative matter that Israel could think of” following media reports that Israel might bomb leaders of Palestinian militant groups in Syria and Lebanon.

Reports from Haifa say Israel launched helicopter missile strikes in Gaza on Sunday after a Palestinian woman suicide bomber killed 19 persons in a crowded beach restaurant in this northern Israeli city. The bombing on Saturday at the Maxim restaurant, frequented by Jews and Arabs, just before the solemn Jewish Yom Kippur fast day triggered fresh calls in Israel to exile Yasser Arafat and further battered a stalled US-backed peace “road map”.

An Israeli government source said no decision on Arafat was imminent. The United States, Israel’s main ally, opposes banishing the Palestinian president from the Palestinian territories, saying such a move would win him world sympathy.

Israel’s missile strikes damaged a Palestinian militant’s home in Gaza City and struck an electricity generator in the el-Bureij refugee camp. No one was badly hurt. The army said helicopters had attacked two weapons depots of the Hamas group. Several Israeli Arabs were also among the dead in the Haifa bombing.

The Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the restaurant attack and named the bomber as Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat, 29, from the West Bank city of Jenin. It said she was avenging the killing of her brother and cousin, Islamic Jihad members, by Israel in a three-year-old Palestinian uprising for statehood.

The Israeli army blew up her family home, where seven relatives lived, early on Sunday, witnesses said. The suicide attack in Haifa was the first since twin bombings killed 15 persons on September 9 and the first since Israel’s Cabinet decided in principle on September 11 to “remove” Arafat.

The attack provoked an international outcry and some Israeli ministers demanded Arafat’s removal. Palestinian leaders urged the world to stop any assault to oust the president. Arafat condemned the attack and said it would give Israel a pretext to obstruct international peace efforts.

Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qurie, whose government is obliged to rein in militants under the road map, urged Palestinians to “fully halt these actions that target civilians”. Israel said that was “too little and too late”.

Nearly 30 Arafat supporters, including some foreigners, today went to his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah to act as “human shields”, witnesses have said.

The US President, Mr George W. Bush, said the suicide bombing was despicable and urged the Palestinians to “fight terror”.

In Cairo, the Egyptian President, Mr Hosni Mubarak, condemned the Israeli strike inside Syrian territory, and the visiting German Chancellor, Mr Gerhard Schroeder, said the attack was “not acceptable”.

Mr Schroeder said: “Regional peace efforts become more complicated when... the sovereignty of a country is violated.”

The Moscow reporter says Russia has urged both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to take steps to prevent a fresh spiral of violence after the suicide bombing in Israel.

Russia is a part of the quartet backing the “road map” peace plan — along with the United States, United Nations and European Union — calling for creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. — Reuters


Israelis form human shield around Arafat

Ramallah, October 5
Nearly 30 foreigners and Israelis camped out at the headquarters of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat today, forming a “human shield” meant to prevent any attempt by Israel to exile him in the wake of the suicide bombing in Haifa on Saturday.

Most of the protesters were from the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, which has protested against Israeli military steps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat has been largely confined to his half-demolished compound by the Israeli forces since December 2001. Uri Avineri, a prominent left-wing Israeli, said: “We know we cannot stop tanks with our hands, but we hope that our presence may deter the army.” — Reuters


Vajpayee condemns attack

New Delhi, October 5
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tonight strongly condemned Israeli attack on a militant training camp in Syria saying that the cycle of violence and counter-violence should stop.

“We strongly condemn it. The cycle of violence and counter-violence should stop,” he told reporters here before leaving for Indonesia and Thailand on a seven-day visit.

“Agreement has been reached and there is need to move forward on that,” Mr Vajpayee said when referred to the Israeli action and asked whether India was also thinking about action on those lines. — PTI

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