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Syria seeks condemnation of Israeli airstrike

Israel's U.N. envoy defends 'measured defensive operation'

Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman, left, answered charges from Syrian ambassador Fayssal Mekdad at an emergency session of the Security Council on Sunday.
Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman, left, answered charges from Syrian ambassador Fayssal Mekdad at an emergency session of the Security Council on Sunday.

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Syria called Sunday for the U.N. Security Council to condemn Israel's airstrike against what the Israelis called a terrorist training camp inside Syrian territory. The attack came hours after a terrorist suicide bomber killed 19 people in Haifa, Israel.

Syria, which holds a rotating seat on the council, requested a special session and asked the council to strongly condemn the attack, said its U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad.

There was no vote in the Security Council Sunday. No further action on the matter was scheduled, a U.N. spokesman said, as Security Council members await responses from their respective capitals.

Israel's U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, called the airstrike a "measured defensive operation" aimed at a training camp used by Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group that the U.S. State Department designates a terrorist organization.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing Saturday at a popular restaurant owned by Jews and Arabs in Haifa that also wounded more than 50 people. (Full story)

The Syrian Foreign Ministry insisted the Israeli target, near Damascus, was a civilian site, but did not elaborate. There were no reports of casualties.

Mekdad called the air raid an act of "unwarranted aggression" that violated the U.N. Charter and the 1974 disengagement agreement that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War. (Full story)

He said Syria has exercised "maximum self-restraint," but he accused Israel of trying "to export its current domestic crisis to the entire region."

"Syria is not incapable of establishing a resistance and deterrent balance that would force Israel to reconsider its calculations," Mekdad said. "We believe that Israel should desist from committing further attacks, and the international community should shoulder its responsibility in preventing Israel."

Syria proposed a draft resolution to that effect, which was backed by other Arab countries.

Gillerman said Israel acted in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which allows nations the right to self-defense. Syria has "put itself in the dock" by calling for Sunday's meeting, he said.

"There are few better exhibits of state sponsorship for terrorism than the one provided by the Syrian regime," he said.

"Syria would do well to take a hard look at the mirror and count itself fortunate that it has not yet, for unfortunate reasons, been the subject of concerted international action as part of the global campaign against terrorism," Gillerman said. "Not yet."

The United States holds the council's rotating presidency and invited Israel to sit at the table. After his speech, Gillerman left the Security Council for the Yom Kippur holiday.

Most on council denounce both actions

The other 14 members of the Security Council were near unanimous in denouncing both the Haifa bombing and the Israeli airstrike.

The lone exception was the United States, whose ambassador, John Negroponte, called on both sides to avoid heightening tensions.

The United States "believes Syria is on the wrong side of the war on terrorism," Negroponte said. "We have been clear of the need for Syria to cease harboring terrorist groups."

Negroponte said he and other U.S. officials have repeatedly made clear to Syria that its support of terrorist groups is "unacceptable and intolerable."

"We believe it is in Syria's interest and in the broader interest of Middle East peace for Syria to stop harboring and supporting the groups that perpetrate terrorist acts such as the one that occurred in Haifa yesterday," he said.

Although he did not mention Syria by name, U.K. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry chided countries that permit terrorist groups to attack Israel.

"There is a heavy responsibility ... on all those who are in a position to act against terrorism to do so," Parry said. "Allowing impunity to those committed to using terror as a political instrument serves only to undermine peace and to prevent progress in the Middle East peace process."

As for Israel, Parry called the airstrike "unacceptable" and said it was an escalation of violence.

"Israel should not allow its justified anger at continuing terrorism to lead to actions which undermine both the peace process and, we believe, Israel's own interests."

President Bush telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday to offer U.S. condolences on the Haifa suicide bombing and to discuss Israel's strike on Syria, a Bush administration official said. (Full story)

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN that he called the White House to ask the Bush administration to help defuse the latest violence.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat named Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qorei as prime minister and temporary leader Sunday of an emergency Cabinet, Qorei said.

The eight-member Cabinet will stay in place for one month, when a permanent one is to be named, Qorei said. (Full story)

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