Syria Made Historic Mistakes on Iraq: US Lawmaker
DAMASCUS, 27 April 2003 — A senior US lawmaker told Syria yesterday it had made “historic mistakes” in its policy toward Iraq, and said stopping support for “terrorist” organizations was among the conditions for improving ties. “Syria’s position in the United States ... dropped dramatically as we saw the transfer of military equipment from and through Syria to Iraq,” Tom Lantos of California, the top Democrat on the US House of Representatives’ International Relations Committee, told reporters.
“These were very bad mistakes, historic mistakes, and the time is long overdue to correct the course of Syrian policy,” he said after a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the United States would hold Syria accountable for reported shipments of military equipment, including night vision goggles, to Iraq.
Washington has also accused Syria of developing chemical weapons and harboring fleeing members of Saddam Hussein’s ousted Iraqi government, charges which Syria denies. Lantos, who described the talks with Bashar as constructive, said he wanted to improve US-Syrian ties, but that “there are prerequisites”.
“We find it unacceptable ... that there should be headquarters of terrorist organizations in Damascus. These will need to be closed if Syria is to forge a new relationship with the United States,” he said. He called on Syria to stop supporting the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah and to withdraw Syrian troops from neighboring Lebanon.
Lantos said Syrian-US relations could improve only if Syria closed the offices of groups which Washington considered to be terrorist groups and suspend its support for the Hezbollah. “We find that there should not be headquarters of terrorist organizations in Damascus. These should be closed if Syria is to embark on a new relationship with the US Secondly, the ongoing support and supply of Hezbollah military activities through the airport in Damascus must end.”
Meanwhile, unidentified assailants carried out four separate hand grenade attacks in the south Lebanon Ain El-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp overnight, causing no casualties, camp sources said yesterday. The first grenade exploded around midnight near an office of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. About one hour later, a second grenade exploded in the Baraksat neighborhood, where several offices of Fatah are located. A third grenade was thrown at a Fatah patrol. A fourth grenade was thrown at dawn yesterday at the home of Fatah official Fuad Charkawi.
On Thursday, a dynamite stick exploded in a coffee shop in Ain El-Hilweh’s vegetable market. Since August, more than 40 bomb or grenade attacks have been recorded in Ain El-Hilweh, Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, and the nearby Miyeh-Miyeh refugee camp on the outskirts of the port city of Sidon.

US congressman urges Syria to cut support for Lebanese Hezbollah
US Representative Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, urged Syria Saturday to cut support to the Lebanon-based Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah. "I hope it (Syria) will not flounder on continued misguided policies like military support for Hezbollah or the maintenance of terrorist headquarters in Damascus," Lantos told media after talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria has already rejected US charges of cooperation with the ousted regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, support for terror groups and pursuit of chemical weapons. But Lantos stressed: "The Syrian government can close the terrorist headquarters and put an end to supplying Hezbollah by military means tomorrow morning. "If it chooses to do so the Syrian people will be infinitely better off in the months and years ahead." On Thursday, US Senator Bob Graham, a Democrat from Florida, said Syrian support for Hezbollah remained a major impediment to improving strained relations with Washington. "The training of terrorists (and) the operation of a global terrorist network cannot be part of any legitimate political or social organization," Graham said in the US capital. Hezbollah, considered a major enemy by Israel, was originally set up by Iran, which also equipped the militia and remains its main financier. However the guerrilla group enjoys both political and logistical support from Syria and the pro-Syrian Lebanese government.