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Syria denies hiding Iraqi weapons

Sharon: Israel investigating reports

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his country is looking into reports that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has transferred to Syria weapons he wanted to hide -- a claim Syria denies.

"We have such reports," Sharon said in an interview Tuesday broadcast on Israel's Channel 2 television.

"We are in the process of verification of these reports," Sharon said. "What we assume -- and again I say, we have not yet finalized the reports -- is that weapons that he (Saddam) wanted to hide -- chemical weapons, biological weapons -- were indeed transferred to Syria."

Syria said the allegation "is completely, absolutely not true," according to a statement from the Syrian Foreign Ministry. "And it aims to divert attention from Israel's arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons which other countries support by money and weapons to protect Israel and help it develop."

Sharon's response was prompted by an interviewer asking whether he could confirm that Saddam had smuggled chemical and biological weapons to Syria. The interviewer also wanted to know if the United States was aware of the purported smuggling.

"I imagine so," Sharon said. "The whole thing needs verification."

Syria's statement said: "This accusation against Syria is laughable because Syria has already agreed to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and it has called in all the countries in the region to make the Middle East the region with no weapons of mass destruction. The only side that stands against this call is Israel and Israel with its arsenal of these weapons is not only a threat to Palestinians ... but a threat to the whole world's peace and security."

A Bush administration official said if Sharon's allegations were true "this would be further evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction programs and is seeking to hide them from the world."

The official said any country approached to accept conventional weapons from Iraq would be making a "serious mistake."

"We would urge those countries to think carefully before doing so," the official said.

Bush has threatened possible military action against Iraq if it refuses to abide by United Nations resolutions calling for it to disarm itself of alleged weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad has repeatedly denied possessing such weapons -- chemical, nuclear or biological.

On December 7 Iraq delivered to U.N. weapons inspectors 11,000 pages of what Baghdad said were details of its weapons of mass destruction programs and possible facilities that might be used to develop them.

U.N. Resolution 1441 -- passed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council on November 8 -- demanded the Iraqi documents be handed over by December 8.

The resolution also called on Iraq to abide by all the U.N. resolutions that Iraq promised to follow in a cease-fire agreement reached after it lost the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

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