(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Syria criticized the United States on Tuesday, accusing it of spreading "false" claims of Syrian nuclear activity and cooperation with North Korea to excuse an alleged Israeli air incursion over the country this month.
A front-page editorial in the government newspaper Tishrin also was critical of Washington for failing to condemn the alleged September 6 Israeli incursion, which it called a violation of international law.
Details of the so-called incursion remain unclear. US officials have reportedly said Israeli warplanes struck a target. A senior US non-proliferation official said last week that North Korean personnel were in Syria helping its nuclear program, raising speculation that the Israelis were targeting a nuclear installation.
North Korea on Tuesday vehemently denied it secretly helped Syria develop a nuclear program, claiming the charge was fabricated by US hardliners to block progress in the North's relations with the United States. Damascus has also denied any nuclear cooperation with North Korea.
The editorial in Tishrin, which reflects Syrian government thinking in a country where the press is tightly controlled, said the US accusations reflect Washington's pro-Israel bias and have no credibility.
"Of course, none of the American officials said that the aerial piracy committed by Israel was illegal and was a flagrant aggression against the sovereignty of a state, because they disregard international law whenever they want when it comes to Israel," the Syrian newspaper said.
It said Washington was "busy circulating claims on Israel's behalf" that the incursion involved "possible nuclear facilities supplied by (North) Korea."
"The strange thing is that the Americans are talking on behalf of Israel and are providing excuses and concocting new false spins such as talking about presumed Syrian nuclear activity and completely turning a blind eye about the Israeli nuclear danger," the Syrian editorial said.
Israel has never acknowledged it has the bomb but it is widely believed to have nuclear weapons.
The Syrian newspaper said the accusations "recall those false claims that the Americans and the British circulated about Iraq's nuclear programs."
Tishrin was referring to Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction program, one of the pretexts used to invade Iraq in 2003. No WMD were found after the fall of Saddams' government and the occupation of Iraq.
It said Washington's "blatant Israeli bias has hurt - and continues to hurt - the image of the United States and its role of preserving justice, fairness and international peace."
Israel has declined to comment on the air operation. Syria has said only that warplanes entered its airspace, came under fire from anti-aircraft defenses, and dropped munitions and fuel tanks to lighten their loads while they fled.
A US government official has reportedly said Israeli warplanes hit weapons destined for Hizbullah guerrillas. But the former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, told The Jreusalem post he believes the Israelis were hitting a nuclear facility.
Both Syria and Israel appeared to seek to avoid escalation over the incident. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that he is prepared for peace negotiations with Syria if the conditions are ripe.
Olmert has made the same offer of peace talks many times in the past, but this was the first time he has mentioned Syria at all since the reported air strike. In 2000, Israel-Syria talks neared agreement but broke down over final border and peace arrangements.
There was no immediate Syrian comment response to Olmert's statement.