An official Syrian newspaper cheered President Bashar Al Assad Friday for braving international anger and criticizing Israel in the presence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Assad "expressed the position of the majority of the world and all the parties who love peace," said Al Baath, the mouthpiece of Syria's ruling party, cited by AFP.
Standing alongside Blair, Assad told a press conference Wednesday that Syria saw things "with both eyes."
Assad said that while Britain and the United States wrestled international terrorism, there was also "Israeli terrorism" against the Palestinians.
The remarks were a jarring rebuke to Blair, who had come to the region late Tuesday to rally Arab support for US-led strikes on Afghanistan, the state sponsor for alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
Al Baath added: "Only diplomatic rules prevented Blair from directly denouncing the Israeli terrorist practices" himself.
The paper pointed to Blair's call in Israel for the Jewish state to conform to international law, as implicit criticism of Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian militants.
The British press said on Thursday that Blair had been humiliated by Assad, who lambasted Israel and refused to endorse the US bombing campaign in Afghanistan.
Referring to the US-led strikes on Afghanistan, whose Taliban regime is harboring bin Laden, Assad said "we cannot accept the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians every day."
This is the second time anti-Israeli remarks by Assad, who rose to power in July 2000, hav stirred angry reactions.
The Israelis denounced Assad for a speech upon welcoming the pope to Syria earlier this year, in which he said the Israelis were "trying to kill religions in the same way they betrayed Jesus Christ, in the same way they tried to kill the Prophet Mohammed."
But Assad, during a visit to France in late June, sought to clear up the "misunderstanding" over the remarks that had been widely regarded as anti-Semitic.
Assad told lawmakers at France’s National Assembly that his comments had not been aimed at Jews in general but only at Israel – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )