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(photo credit: AP)
Israel welcomed a statement issued by the Quartet on Friday calling on Syria to close the offices of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Damascus, saying this gives key international backing to Israel's oft-repeated claims that Damascus harbors Palestinian terrorist organizations.
"We have been saying for years the Syrians should close down the offices of Islamic Jihad in Damascus, and the Syrians have always said that these are just information offices or have been closed down, and that this is all just Israeli propaganda," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, who characterized the Quartet statement as "very important."
Regev said this was the first time the international community has recognized that Palestinian terrorist groups are operating out of Damascus.
"The minute the international community issues a statement like this, it is no longer Jerusalem against Damascus, but now the whole world is involved," Regev said.
The Quartet is a diplomatic entity made up of the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN. The statement followed a conference call that included US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The Quartet statement came in response to the terrorist attack Wednesday in Hadera, for which Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
"The Quartet urges the Syrian government to take immediate action to close the offices of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and to prevent the use of its territory by armed groups engaged in terrorist acts," the joint statement read.
At the same time, the Quartet also urged all sides to exercise restraint in order to avoid further escalation in the situation, saying in its statement that "the Quartet believes it is imperative that all involved act decisively to ensure that terror and violence are not allowed to undermine further progress in accordance with the road map."
Trying to fend off the latest international charge over its alleged ties to Palestinian terrorists, an unidentified Syrian Foreign Ministry official said yesterday that Islamic Jihad's military activities were planned from the Palestinian territories and that the Damascus offices of the group were closed long ago, according to comments carried by Syria's state-run news agency.