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2003-10-06

Israel Bombs Syria for the First Time in 30 Years in Major Escalation of Conflict

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Syrian expert Patrick Seale discusses the impact on the bombing raid which came hours after a Palestinian attorney blew herself up in Haifa killing 19 people on the eve of Yom Kippur. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript Fears of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict growing into a regional war expanded yesterday as Israeli warplanes bombed targets deep inside Syria yesterday in a surprise airstrike. It was the first attack inside Syria in 30 years. Israeli warplanes strike outside of Damascus came hours after a Palestinian woman blew herself up in a suicide attack in the Israeli town of Haifa. 19 people died in the attack including four children. 60 more were injured. The suicide bombing came on the eve of the Jewish Holy Day Yom Kippur.

Israeli described the target to be a terrorist training camp run by Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian group that had carried out the attack. But Syrian officials say the camp was largely abandoned. Israel’s bombing of Syria was widely condemned in the international community.

UN Secretary Kofi Annan said this "has the potential to broaden the scope of current conflicts in the Middle East, further threatening regional peace and security." Most of the Arab world and much of Europe condemned the attack. The Bush administration urged restraint on all sides but US ambassador John Negroponte said "The United States believes that Syria is on the wrong side of the war on terrorism."

Israel yesterday protested the UN Security Council’s decision to hold a closed-door meeting to discuss the attack.

Israel’s ambassador, Dan Gillerman said, "For Syria to call a Security Council meeting is as if Bin Laden had called a Security Council meeting after 9/11."

Israeli officials also suggested Iran could be a possible future target. On CNN a spokesman for Prime Minister Sharon said "This is a clear signal to the Damascus-Tehran-Gaza axis of terror."

  • Patrick Seale, British journalist who has covered the Middle East for over 30 years specializing in Syria. He is the author of Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Fears of the Israeli Palestinian conflict growing into a regional war expanded yesterday as Israeli war planes bombed targets deep inside yesterday in a surprise strike. It was the first attack inside Syria in 30 years since the Yom Kippur war. Israeli war planes struck outside of Damascus hours after a Palestinian woman blew herself up in a suicide attack in the Israeli town of Haifa. 19 people died in that attack including four children; 60 more were injured. The suicide bombing coming on the eve of today, the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. Israel described the target in Syria to be a terrorist training camp run by Islamic Jihad. But Syrian officials say, the camp was largely abandoned. Israel’s bombing of Syria was widely condemned in the international community. Israel yesterday protested the U.N. security council’s decision to hold a closed door meeting to discuss the attack. Israel’s ambassador Dan Gillerman said, quote, for Syria to call a security council meeting as if Bin Laden called a security council meeting after 911. Israeli officials also suggest that Iran could be a possible future target. On CNN a spokes spokesperson for prime minister Ariel Sharon said, quote, this is a clear signal to the Damascus- Teheran-Gaza axis of terror. Meanwhile, U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan said this quote has the potential to broaden the scope of current conflicts in the Middle East further threatening regional peace and security. Most of the Arab world and much of Europe condemned the attack. We turn now to Patrick Seale, a British journalist who covered the Middle East over 30 years and author of the book "Asad: The struggle for the Middle East." Welcome to Democracy Now! Patrick. It is good to have you with us. Your response to the latest attacks.

PATRICK SEALE: Well, what we’re witnessing of course is the bankruptcy of Ariel Sharon’s policy. As prime minister of Israel he has brought Israel nothing but insecurity, death, and collapsing economy. All this in the cause of his great Israel project, gobbling up Arab lands, Palestinian lands, and inflicting terrible hardships on the Palestinians. Now the Israelis are then surprised that the Palestinians respond with these suicide bombings, terrible as they are. Of course this poor girl who blew herself up, her brother and her cousin had both been killed by Israeli troops. The important thing to realize is that these suicide bombers do not need a huge infra structure in support of them. Most of them make their bombs at home themselves. They are reacting out of despair after a terrible situation in which they find themselves. So by blaming Syria or any other neighboring country for responsibility is of course nearly an attempt by Sharon to shift the responsibility away from himself and his policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Seale, how do you think or do you think that Israel’s focusing on Syria right now has anything to do with the Bush administration’s calling Syria a terrorist breeding ground, though not in those words. The Bush administration is saying that despite pledges Syria has not stopped militants from crossing into Iraq to kill American soldiers.

PATRICK SEALE: Well, it has a lot to do with it. Prime minister Sharon is either testing the limits of American tolerance of his violent policies or he is acting in conjunction with leading members of the American administration. I tend to think that he may be simply testing how far he can go. He has chosen his moments fairly well. The Americans are irritated with Syria. They’re trying to seal off Iraq from external intervention. They’re frightened of finding themselves stuck in a guerrilla war in Iraq rather the same sort of war that eventually drove Israel out of Lebanon. And so they are trying to seal it off from external intervention. Now, Sharon is seeing that Syria is unpopular in certain quarters in Washington. He is seeing that Syria accountability act which would impose economic embargo on Syria is in front of the congress or front of the congressional subcommittee. He chose this moment to try to strike and weaken Syria, expose its weakness to the world, the Arab world at the same time give some reassurance to his own public opinion, which has been traumatized by the suicide bombings.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Patrick Seale. He is author of "Asad." The issue of the camp that they say they bombed, reports are that it has been abandoned.

PATRICK SEALE: Well, there are some 400 000 Palestinian refugees mostly living in fairly poor conditions. Very few have organized military. The Syrians do not allow them to mount raids from Syrian territory against Israel. There is one group called "The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command" headed by a man called Ahmad Jibril. Now, that was his camp. But Jibril is now a very old and sick man, certainly not operational anymore. His last known operation was in 1987, at the beginning of the first intifada, 1987. Now, the camp I understand has been largely abandoned. It is certainly not a place from which Islamic Jihad mounted terrorist attacks against Israel; this is nonsense. One has to be clear about one other thing. When the secretary of state Colin Powell came to Damascus he asked president Bashar Assad, Dan Gillerman, Syria’s young ruler who took power in 2000 he asked him to expel from Syria the political leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian radical groups. Syrians have refused to do that. Their argument is that these men are not terrorists; they are legitimate. Their movements are legitimate movements to Israel’s colonial war in the Palestinian territories. They haven’t broken any law, they haven’t committed any crime in Syria, and as I say they represent–-their fractions represent–the 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria. So Syria refused to expel them. It did however make some cosmetic gestures in that it closed down some of the offices in Syria, which in any event had been representational offices not operational offices. So that’s where the matter stands.

AMY GOODMAN: Well Patrick Seale, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Patrick Seale, British journalist, speaking us to from Britain. He has covered Middle East more than 30 years. His specialty is Syria. His book "Asad: The struggle for the Middle East."


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