The Australian – October 31, 2005
Syria has accused the US of launching lethal military raids into its territory from Iraq, escalating the diplomatic crisis between the two countries as the Bush administration seeks to step up pressure on President Bashar Assad's regime.
Syrian army officer Amid Suleiman told Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper that US cross-border attacks into Syria had killed at least two border guards.
The charge follows leaks in Washington that the US has already engaged in military raids into Syria and is contemplating launching special forces operations on Syrian soil to eliminate insurgent networks before they reach Iraq, the report said.
Edward Walker, a former US ambassador to Egypt and Israel, who is now head of the Middle East Institute think tank, told the paper: "No one in the administration has any problem with acting tough on Syria; it is the one thing they all agree on.
"I've heard there have been some cross-border activities, and it certainly makes sense as a warning to Syria that if they don't take care of the problem the US will step up itself."
The increased blurring of battle lines between Iraq and Syria came as reports said Syria could face far tougher demands than expected today to compel its regime to co-operate with a UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who had opposed the presence of Syrian troops in his country.
Under the terms of a resolution being hammered out this weekend at UN headquarters, Syria would be required to turn over suspects to international justice or face the possible use of force.
Tape recordings of Syrian and Lebanese officials discussing the car bomb attack that killed Hariri were being cited by diplomats this weekend to put teeth into the draft resolution.
Last week, Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the 15-member Security Council, said they would vote against sanctions. As permanent members hold veto powers, that could have put paid to a punitive resolution, but their opposition appeared to be crumbling.
Discussions were under way about whether any people identified in the inquiry by Detlev Mehlis, the UN prosecutor investigating the affair, should be subject to a travel ban and should have their assets seized. The tough stance will put Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited a closed, paranoid regime from his father, further on the defensive. He is already under pressure from Washington to stop Islamic fighters crossing from Syria into Iraq.
Mr Assad will now have to weigh the UN demands against the pressures on him in a country that his father ruled with an iron fist but whose inner circle of power he has not managed to dominate. Two of the President's immediate family, Assef Shawkat, his brother-in-law and head of military intelligence, and Mahar Assad, his younger brother and head of the powerful Republican Guards, were named in a leaked version of the report as having planned Hariri's assassination.
Both names were deleted from Mr Mehlis's final report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but they are expected to be pursued in any prosecution. Also identified in the inquiry was Rustom Ghazali, the head of Syria's security services in Lebanon at the time of Hariri's killing.
The report said that Brigadier-General Ghazali planned the political downfall of Hariri with an unnamed "prominent Lebanese official". His predecessor, interior minister Ghazi Kanaan, who was expected to be named allegedly shot himself in the head rather than face UN censure.
Mr Assad has promised the UN Security Council that any Syrian proved "by concrete evidence" to have played a role will be brought to trial. Yesterday his officials said a judicial committee was being set up to investigate the Syrians who had been implicated.
Damascus tried to fight back last week, organising a series of protests that fell rather flat. Billed in the state-controlled media as a spontaneous outpouring of national pride by hundreds of thousands, television could not hide the fact that fewer than 10,000, mostly state employees or members of the Baath party students' union, took to the streets.
The protest was anything but spontaneous. "I am here to stand for my country against US pressure," said Lara Ali, a young sociology student and Baath party member. Like other users of Syriatel, the mobile network owned by Rami Makhlouf, the President's first cousin, she admitted that she had received a text message urging her to participate in "a demonstration supporting the national attitude".
Last updated 03/11/2005