| A fighter belonging to President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement with an anti-aircraft machinegun in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Helweh, south Lebanon. (AFP)
Jerusalem, Oct. 6 (Reuters): Syria pressed the US today not to shield Israel from UN condemnation for an air strike near Damascus that followed a suicide bombing in Haifa.
Amid the heightened tension in the region, Palestinian militants vowed to avenge the strike on Syria. President Yasser Arafat, himself facing Israeli threats to “remove him”, declared a state of emergency in Palestinian areas yesterday.
The raid near Damascus was Israel’s deepest air strike into Syria in 30 years and was launched on the eve of the anniversary of the 1973 Middle East war. Israel said it targeted a training camp for Palestinian militants.
Two days after the suicide attack, in which 19 people were killed in an Israeli restaurant, Israel came to a complete halt on the Yom Kippur fast holiday, also known as the Day of Attonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
Streets were empty as many Israelis attended religious services at synagogues, where some worshippers were armed for fear of possible militant attacks. The country’s airport, shops and businesses were shut.
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the army enforced a strict clampdown on Palestinian movement during the holiday. Palestinians were not permitted to enter Israel or to travel between Palestinian towns and cities.
An official at the Syrian foreign ministry urged the US not to block a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli strike, saying Washington should help prevent any worsening of tensions in West Asia.
“We hope that the US does not use the veto and that it practises its role as a superpower in preventing aggression and escalation,” the source said.
The US yesterday urged restraint by all parties after the Israeli raid, but accused Damascus of being on the wrong side in the “war on terror”.
Israel said it did not intend to pick a fight with Syria but wanted the air strike to serve as a warning for it to stop Palestinian militant groups operating on Syrian territory.
Syria denies links to “terrorist groups” but says there is a distinction between terrorism and legitimate resistance to Israeli occupation. It says Palestinian militant groups only have media offices on its territory.
Syria called an emergency Security Council meeting on Sunday over the raid, but the US, which has a veto on the council, said it would not support a resolution which condemns the Israeli raid but makes no mention of the suicide attack.
Russia, which also has veto power, said today the Syrian resolution must have balance.
“We believe it would pass if it had a more balanced nature, particularly if it in some way reflected the idea of the necessity of stopping acts of terror in the region,” said deputy foreign minister Yuri Fedotov, Russia’s most prominent West Asia specialist.
“At the same time we have no objection to raising the issue of the vital importance of halting all actions running counter to international law,” he added.
Syria wanted an immediate vote, but Washington said the resolution would have to go to capitals for study. “The US believes that Syria is on the wrong side of the war on terrorism,” said US ambassador John Negroponte, echoing past US demands for Damascus to stop supporting what Washington says are terror groups.