Syria defies Western pressure over Hezbollah
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syria defied Western pressure on Sunday over its support for the militant group Hezbollah and said it will not act as a policeman for the Jewish state to prevent weapons from reaching the Lebanese Shi'ite movement.
"Did Israel ever stop arming itself, did it stop instigating violence or making military maneuvers, why are arms forbidden to Arabs and allowed to Israel?" Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said after meeting his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.
Citing Israeli occupation of Arab land and the technical state of war between Syria and Israel, Moualem said the Damascus government "will not be a policeman for Israel."
"Israel is beating the drum of war. In the absence of real peace everything is possible," he added.
Syria, a country Washington says is critical for Middle East peace, has shown no signs of withdrawing backing for Hezbollah, which is also supported by Iran, although the issue has clouded a rapprochement between Damascus and Washington.
The row intensified when Israeli President Shimon Peres last month accused Syria, which borders Lebanon, of sending long-range Scud missiles to Hezbollah.
Syria said it only gives Hezbollah political backing and that Israel may be using the accusation as a pretext for a military strike.
"A Scud missile is as big as this room. How could it be hidden and smuggled with Israeli planes and satellites all over the region?" Moualem asked, adding that cumbersome Scuds were not suited to Hezbollah's guerrilla tactics.
Hezbollah's weapons have been a focus of Western diplomacy toward Syria in the last several months. Senator John Kerry, who had raised the issue with President Bashar al-Assad last month, met Assad again in the Syrian capital on Saturday.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also met Assad earlier.
France had led Western moves to rehabilitate Syria, but Kouchner said on May 2 that Hezbollah's array of weapons made the situation "dangerous" and that France wants Syria to "guarantee the security" of the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Hezbollah used hundreds of shorter-range rockets against Israeli in a 2006 war that cost Lebanon a heavy civilian toll but failed to neutralize Hezbollah as a fighting force.
Israel said then Hezbollah's supplies were coming through Syria, but it chose not to widen the war.
The United States has avoided giving a view on whether the Scud transfer happened.
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said senior U.S. officials have raised the issue of the suspected transfer of more sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah with Assad who "was making decisions that could mean war or peace for the region."
A U.S. official said President Barack Obama is likely to raise U.S. concerns about Syria arming Hezbollah when he meets Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Monday.
(Editing by Michael Roddy)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this