Assad Reiterates Backing for Anti-Terror Efforts, but Differs with Blair on Definition of 'Terrorism'
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad reiterated his country’s support for international efforts to eradicate "terrorism," but differed with Tony Blair on the definition of the word, during the UK premier's historic visit to Damascus Wednesday.
The BBC Online reported that Blair welcomed Syria's condemnation of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, reiterating that terrorism - not Islam - is the target of the US-led campaign.
For his part, Assad said there were "several points of agreement" between them on the questions of terrorism and the Middle East peace process.
However, AFP said, Assad refused to give ground over Syria's support for various militant groups arrayed against Israel's 34-year occupation of Arab land.
Syria saw things "with both eyes," he told a joint press conference, adding that while there was international terrorism there was also "Israeli terrorism" against the Palestinians.
Assad also implicitly criticized Washington's leading role and its strategy for the "war on terrorism" declared in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, said the agency.
"The war against terror necessitates international action," Assad said, making clear the importance of tackling the underlying causes of tensions in the world so as to “pull the rug from under the terrorists.”
While repeating Syria's condemnation of last month's attacks, Assad said, "It is not up to one party to lead this action.
"On the question of terrorism, we have made distinctions between terrorism and resistance, and insisted on the distinction between Islam and terrorism," Assad said.
"The war against terrorism must be settled first by a group definition of this phenomenon, by international cooperation, by solving the problem at its roots," he said.
British officials had hoped that Assad would be more "flexible" on the question of backing for hardline Palestinian groups and the Lebanese Hizbollah in his talks with Blair, the first British premier to visit Syria.
But the Syrian leader stood firm, comparing the fight against Israeli occupation with the French resistance to the Germans during World War Two under General Charles de Gaulle.
"We support resistance fighters who seek to liberate their lands," he said. "Active resistance is very different from active terrorism."
On the US strikes on Afghanistan, whose Taliban regime is harboring suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, Assad said "we cannot accept the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians every day."
Arab leaders have attributed the Sept. 11 attack against the United States to the West's failure to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict. While condemning those attack, they have failed to endorse the US and British counter-strikes on Afghanistan.
Blair, for his part, said the US-led forces were doing their best to minimize civilian casualties.
He said the international community must throw all its weight behind the fight against terrorism. The priority, he said, was to end terrorism and establish peace in the Middle East.
Blair repeated his backing for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but said Syria and other major regional powers should use their influence to restrain "radical" Palestinian groups and work to ensure a period of calm.
"The only possible long-term solution is Israelis and Palestinians living side by side," he said. "Whatever the differences are, the only way of restarting the peace process is by going back to the negotiating table."
He also called for Syria and Israel to resume their peace talks, which broke down last year over the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Blair is also expected in Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the coming days as he tries to bring calm to the conflict-wracked Middle East – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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