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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Syria vows to respond directly to any Israel strike

DAMASCUS (AFP) - Syria has warned it would respond directly and by all means necessary to any Israeli attack on its territory, in its first official reaction to
Israel's offensive on neighbouring Lebanon.

The warning Sunday coincided with a similar threat by Damascus's key ally
Iran, and came amid rising fears that the Middle East is being dragged deeper into the spiralling conflict sparked by the capture of Israeli soldiers by militants linked to Hamas and Hezbollah.

"Any Israeli attack against Syria will provoke an unlimited, direct and firm response using all means necessary," Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told the official SANA news agency.

Iran also warned arch-enemy Israel of "unimaginable losses" if it attacked Syria and vowed that it was standing by the Syrian people.

"We hope the Zionist regime does not make the mistake of attacking Syria, because extending the front would definitely make the Zionist regime face unimaginable losses," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran.

Israel said one of the rockets fired Sunday by Hezbollah guerrillas on Israel's third-largest city of Haifa, killing eight people, may have been Syrian-made.

"There is a possibility that one of the rockets was made in Syria," a senior military official told reporters following the deadliest cross-border attack in decades.

"Maybe Hezbollah wants to involve Syria in this mess," he said. "It could be a big advantage for Hezbollah to open a third front against Israel."

Israel had said a day earlier that Syria was not a target in its offensive, after firing rockets close to the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Damascus denied its territory had been hit.

The escalating Middle East conflict is central to discussions at a G8 summit of world leaders, and Russia has warned of a "real threat" that the Middle East crisis could widen.

Syria's official media on Sunday denounced "the silence" of Arab countries amid the deadly Israeli offensive in Lebanon, launched Wednesday after two soldiers were captured by militants from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement.

"Silence has become the ideal reaction for Arab regimes when they find nothing to say that will satisfy their grand masters," the state daily Ath-Thawra said.

"Those who have expressed doubts over the actions of the resistance are in one way or another implicated in the (Israeli) aggression against Beirut and Gaza."

The newspaper was referring to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan which indirectly criticized Hezbollah for "adventurism" in provoking Israel's onslaught on Lebanon and putting all Arab nations at risk.

Another Syrian government daily, Tishrin, accused Israel and the United States of waging war in order to gain total control over the region.

"After having achieved the destruction of Iraq and sabatoged all efforts to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict and find a just peace in the region, the US administration has given its green light to the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert to burn down the region beginning with Gaza and Lebanon," Tishrin said.

"This is part of an Israeli-American plan for total hegemony in the region."

Syria, which backs but denies arming Hezbollah, was the longtime powerbroker in Lebanon until an international outcry over the assassination of five-time premier Rafiq Hariri forced it to withdraw its troops last year.
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