Kuntar: Syrian flag in Golan soon
Assad confers highest medal on child killer on the same day his country denies helping terrorists.
Samir Kuntar, the Lebanese terrorist released by Israel earlier this year, spoke across the Syrian border on Monday and promised hundreds of Israeli Druse that President Bashar Assad would "soon wave the Syrian flag over the Golan."
Earlier - at the same time as Syria rejected American charges that it supported terrorism - Assad awarded Kuntar his country's highest medal for spending nearly three decades in an Israeli jail. The Syrian News Agency reported that Kuntar had received the Syrian Order of Merit during a meeting with Assad in Damascus on Monday morning.
Referring to Assad's meeting with Kuntar, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: "Those who dignify the murderers of little children by shaking their hands lose their own dignity."
During a terror attack in 1979 in Nahariya, Kuntar killed 31-year-old Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter, Einat, as well as Eliyahu Shahar, a policeman. He also indirectly caused the death of two-year-old Yael Haran, as her mother accidentally suffocated her while trying to quiet her as they were hiding from Kuntar.
Kuntar was released from prison in July in an exchange with Hizbullah that included the bodies of IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, who were abducted on the Lebanese border in 2006. The abduction triggered the Second Lebanon War.
Witnesses said up to 500 residents of Druse villages in the North, as well as Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raed Salah and MK Said Nafa (Balad), held a rally at the so-called "Shouting Hill" on the border to hear Kuntar speak.
On the Syrian side of the border, Kuntar was joined by hundreds of Syrian Druse, many of whom have relatives in Israel. They waved Syrian flags and played the Syrian national anthem over a loudspeaker.
Addressing the Druse community in Israel, Kuntar conveyed a message of support from Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah for what he called "their battle for the Golan Heights."
"I came here from a meeting with President Bashar Assad, who promised me he would help you," Kuntar declared in Arabic. "I'm telling you, President Assad will soon wave the Syrian flag over the Golan."
"We're waiting for one mistake by the Zionists," he added enigmatically, hinting that Syria could win back the Golan militarily rather than through peace negotiations.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Syria was a key player in the region because it hosted the headquarters of various terror organizations.
Israel has a great interest in pulling Syria out of the axis of terror, Barak said. "But the initial contacts Israel is holding with Syria should be carried out in a serious, responsible and accurate way."
He added, "Syria is currently split between the radical axis of Lebanon and Iran, and turning to the Western world - a decision that will probably be made after [US President-elect Barack] Obama enters the White House."
Meanwhile, Syria rejected US allegations that it was allowing terrorist networks to use its territory to attack Iraq.
US Embassy chargÃ© d'affaires Maura Connelly told a security conference of Iraq's neighbors held in Syria on Sunday that terrorist groups continued to receive weapons, training, funding and guidance from abroad. She was apparently referring to Syria and Iran.
Washington has repeatedly accused both countries of allowing terrorists to cross into Iraq. In October, US forces raided a Syrian village over the border from Iraq in an operation that Washington said targeted an al-Qaida in Iraq leader.
A Japanese delegate who attended Sunday's conference quoted Connelly as saying in a closed session that "Syria is supporting and giving a safe haven to terrorist networks." The delegate spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
After the October 26 raid, American officials issued similarly tough statements, saying US forces were prepared to act if other nations did not. Syria protested the incursion and said eight civilians had been killed.
"We strongly reject this talk," Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Arnous told The Associated Press on Monday. "Syria doesn't accept such allegations, as it was among the first countries to work with the international community to combat terrorism."
In her public remarks Sunday, Connelly said terrorist groups driven out of Iraq continued to pose a threat, and called on neighbors not to tolerate them. Specifically, she advocated joint training exercises to improve information sharing.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.