Israel strikes alleged terror camp in Syria

U.N., Arab League hold emergency sessions

U.S. urges restraint

Retaliation for suicide bombing

Airstrike is first attack inside neighbor in 30 years

October 06, 2003|By Megan K. Stack | Megan K. Stack,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM - Israeli fighter jets flew deep into the skies over Syria early yesterday and bombed a suspected terrorist training camp, pushing Israel's fight to quell the Palestinian uprising beyond the boundaries of the Palestinian territories and sending waves of outrage through the region.

For the first time in three decades, Israel struck far into Syrian territory. Still reeling from a suicide attack Saturday that killed 19 people in a seaside restaurant, Israel said it bombed an Islamic Jihad compound nestled in the Syrian landscape to "send a message" to unfriendly nations.

"This is a very clear message both to Syria and to all those countries involved in the axis of terror directed against us," said Ranaan Gissin, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "We will not tolerate that there will be sanctuary or immunity for anybody, regardless of geography. It's up to Syria whether Syria accepts the message and restrains its terror groups."

After the strike, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared an emergency from his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah and installed a new government by decree. Ahmed Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, was sworn in as prime minister, and a seven-member emergency Cabinet was created. The hasty action was an apparent attempt to deflect possible Israeli action against Arafat.

Israel's government has threatened to expel Arafat from the region, and the suicide bombing Saturday brought renewed calls for his ouster from Israeli officials. But international opposition to such a move is strong, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government has not indicated what action it might take. Israeli officials hinted that the military might impose further restrictions on Arafat at his compound, but said that it would go no further at this stage.

The pre-dawn bombings unveiled a sharp shift in Israeli policy. After three years of battle in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel is declaring the right to chase armed Palestinian factions into their bases in foreign countries. It is a philosophy that echoes the controversial doctrine of pre-emption that has driven U.S. foreign policy since Sept. 11, 2001.

It was the militant Islamic Jihad that sent a young lawyer to blow herself up in a crowded restaurant Saturday - and Syria was taken to task for aiding the group. Some Israeli officials described the Syrian air attacks as blows of self-defense.

"In the raid last night, Israel has upgraded its military reaction," said Israel Radio, quoting military sources. "The raid is a strategic change for Israel, which will no longer contain the struggle and restrict it to the Palestinian Authority territory."

The strikes were launched on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of war among Israel, Syria and Egypt. Against that backdrop, Arab leaders warned that Israel's new battle strategy could unleash renewed bloodshed throughout an intensely troubled region.

"This can only mean that Israel wants war," said Imad Fawzi al Shueibi, a political scientist at Damascus University. "If Israel wants to take the U.S. example of striking terror abroad, it has chosen a very bad time."

In a hastily arranged meeting of the U.N. Security Council, an infuriated Syria urged the council to condemn the attack. "Many people across the globe feel that Israel is above the law," said Fayssal Mekdad, Syria's U.N. representative.

While Syria is widely regarded as unlikely to respond with military force, a letter from the embattled state to the United Nations hinted otherwise. "Syria is not incapable of creating a resisting and deterring balance that forces Israel to review its actions," it said.

The Arab League, too, scrambled to an emergency meeting, where Secretary General Amr Moussa called the bombings on Syria an act of "state-sponsored terrorism." After a heated session in Cairo, Egypt, the Arab League issued a scathing statement to protest the "unjust aggression," and to confirm Syria's right to strike back. The raid threatened to pull the entire region into "whirlwind violence," the statement said.

A lone man was reportedly injured in the bombings on the densely wooded site in Ein Saheb, about 14 miles northwest of Damascus. There was some confusion over the target - Syrian officials insisted there was no camp there, only a run of civilian land. Islamic Jihad denied it was their training center. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said it was theirs, but that it was defunct.

Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counterterrorism official for the CIA, said recent intelligence indicated that the site was a refugee camp, although in the past it had been used for training by Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front. "There is no current terrorist training there. This is a symbolic act," Cannistraro said yesterday.

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