Syria puts army on alert (JERUSALEM POST) By ARIEH O´SULLIVAN AND TOVAH LAZAROFF 12/05/03)
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Syrian President Bashar Assad has ordered his armed forces to prepare
for an Israeli military strike, IDF Intelligence has informed the
government. The order came after Assad charged that Israel rejected
his peace bids.
A senior officer told military reporters that it is Syria which
stands in the way of peace efforts, as the planned bombing of a
Yokne´am school, the order for which came from Islamic Jihad
headquarters in Damascus, proves.
The officer said the IDF would have recommended striking targets in
Syria had children been killed.
Syria´s military maneuvering and rhetoric came after Israel snubbed
Assad´s recent informal proposal for talks, made to The New York
Times. In a speech on Wednesday, Assad accused Jerusalem of creating
tensions by its "policies of escalation and extremism."
He said Israel responded to "Arab willingness to make peace"
with "negligence and rejection." He claimed that tension throughout
the region is due to "the policies of escalation and extremism the
Israeli government follows and its actions of aggression on the Arab
people in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria."
According to defense sources, the Syrian Air Force has raised its
level of alert and has been patrolling the border with Israel in
anticipation of another IAF strike.
It´s a move the Syrians have been talking about since the IAF bombed
an empty Palestinian training base near Damascus on October 5 in
retaliation for the suicide bombing at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa
that murdered 21 people.
A senior defense official said the Syrian military alert speaks to
Assad´s belief that Israel is a threat. "This has nothing to do with
our intentions, but rather with assessments we have received
regarding the perceptions being held by the Syrians about what we may
do," he said.
A Western diplomat said the Syrian leadership is desperate to avoid a
repeat of the October 5 raid, which Assad fears will expose him as
weak at a time when Syria is already under great US pressure to end
support for terrorism.
A squadron of IAF F-16s crisscrossed Lebanon two weeks ago, flying
over Beirut and buzzing Syrian troops stationed in the northern and
eastern parts of the country. The IAF has also buzzed Assad in his
A senior IDF officer said the military would have urged striking at
targets in Syria had the foiled suicide bombing targeting a school in
Yokne´am succeeded in killing children.
Senior Syrian officials have warned that Assad´s regime could not
countenance another IAF strike on its soil after the October 5
strike. "If we are attacked again, the people will not stand for it,
and we will have to carry out the will of the people," said Foreign
Minister Farouk Shara. "We have many cards that have not been played.
Don´t forget there are many Israeli settlements on the Golan
Jane´s Defense Weekly reported Thursday that the assessment in
Damascus is that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is determined to attack
Syria for domestic political reasons, and that he believes he has
backing from the Bush administration.
A senior Western diplomat told the Associated Press Wednesday that in
October Israel had rejected a proposal by Syria to halt violence
along the northern border in return for a promise to end flights over
Lebanon and not attack its territory. That cease-fire would be
followed by efforts to renew the peace talks suspended in 2000.
Israel did not respond to the proposal, which was contained in a
document written in October by a Western mediator, the senior
Israeli officials have not comment publicly on the effort, and no
reaction was available from Syria.
However, an Israeli official said that, "If such a message was
delivered, Israel acted according to its best estimate of Syria´s
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has said that Israel is measuring
Syria´s intentions by its actions, not its words.
AP contributed to this report. (© 1995-2003, The Jerusalem Post
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