Syria says 'terrorists' coming from outside border

State-run media says objective of weekend car bombing was to undermine Damascus' efforts to emerge from international isolation.

September 28, 2008 18:57
3 minute read.
Syria says 'terrorists' coming from outside border

syria bomb 224.88. (photo credit: AP)


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Syria on Sunday hinted at foreign involvement in a deadly weekend car bombing, with its state-run media saying the objective was to undermine Damascus' efforts to emerge from years of international isolation. Saturday's 440 pound car bomb near a Syrian security complex on the southern outskirts of the capital killed 17 people. It was the biggest - and deadliest - in the tightly controlled country since the 1980s when authorities fought an uprising by Muslim militants. It also underlined weaknesses in the Syrian regime's tight grip and the conflicting pressures it is exposed to as it attempts to change course and adopt moderate policies on its neighbors Lebanon and Iraq. No one has claimed responsibility for the explosion, which also injured 14 people. Syrian officials have so far avoided accusing any group, saying only it was a "terrorist act." The government-owned daily Al-Thawra claimed in an editorial Sunday that recent attacks in Syria were planned outside the country, but did not mention any names. However, the comment came a week after Syria massed thousands of troops north of its borders with neighboring Lebanon. Syria says the deployment is meant to curb smuggling, but President Bashar Assad has warned recently that "extremist forces" were operating in northern Lebanon and destabilizing his country. He was apparently referring to Sunni militants who have clashed for months with pro-Syrian gunmen in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Another government newspaper, Tishrin, said the bombing was carried out by some parties it said were angered by Syria's "victorious return to the international arena after the desperate attempts to isolate, besiege and punish it." Though Syria has long been viewed by the US as a destabilizing force in the Mideast, Damascus has been trying in recent months to change its image and end years of isolation. Assad has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel and says he wants direct talks next year. Syria also has agreed to establish its first formal diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a neighbor it used to dominate. It also says it has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of militants into Iraq. European, American and Arab officials have recently resumed visiting Syria after avoiding it following the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians blamed Syria for Hariri's death. Damascus denies involvement. Most recently, French President Nicolas Sarkozy joined the leaders of Turkey and Qatar and came to Damascus to meet with Assad. Hours before Saturday's explosion, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem held a rare meeting in New York with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Syrian analyst Imad Shueibi says Syria was being punished for its support of "resistance" groups, overcoming its international isolation and opposing US plans in the Middle East. "All these have pushed various parties to try to toy with stability in Syria," he said. Leaders of Palestinian groups such as Hamas live in Syria, which also is a close ally of Hizbullah. Damascus also maintains close ties with Iran. Syria, however, insists that it has an interest in fighting Islamic extremist groups like al-Qaida. Assad's secular regime has been battling Muslim militants blamed for recent attacks. In September 2006, Islamic militants tried to storm the US Embassy in Damascus in an unusually bold attack in which three assailants and a Syrian guard were killed. Three months earlier, a battle between Syrian security forces and militants near the Defense Ministry left four militants and a police officer dead. Officials blamed those attacks on Jund al-Sham, or Soldiers of Syria - an al-Qaida offshoot that was established in Afghanistan. Militants often denounce Assad's regime for its secularism and have at times called for its overthrow. But a Syrian dissident group accused the Syrian regime of orchestrating the bombing in order to show the world that Syria too was a victim of terrorist attacks. "The regime is now facing heavy pressure because it is sheltering terrorist cells and transforming Syria into a passageway to terrorist groups and exporting them to Lebanon and Iraq," The Beirut branch of the "Damascus Declaration" - a coalition of Syrian pro-democracy groups - said in a statement.

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