Syria Denies Chemical Weapons, Harboring Iraqi Fugitives

At a Palestinian refugee camp, death notices show the role this country has played in Iraq. Young men who died in battle alongside Iraqis are praised for "fighting against the British, American and Zionist aggression against Iraq."

U.S. officials have accused Syria of sending military equipment to Iraq, sheltering senior Iraqi officials and possessing and testing chemical weapons. Syria, an outspoken opponent of the U.S.-led war, like most Arab countries, denies those charges.

But it can't deny Arabs crossed its border to fight American and British troops because Syrian identity cards have been found on the bodies of men who died battling alongside Iraqis.

Anti-American sentiment is high in Syria, and perhaps nowhere more so in settlements such as Damascus' Palestine Camp, one of several for more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in Syria.

The United States is accused across the Arab world of unfairly siding with Israel against the Arabs, and the attack on Iraq was seen as more evidence of that stance.

Four death notices adorn the walls of Palestine Camp. Some hail a pro-Iraq fighter who "became a martyr."

Among the dead is Issam Hajjo, 23, his mother said Sunday.

Awatef Hajjo said her son previously went to Lebanon to fight Israelis with the aim of becoming a martyr, but he returned days later.

For his second try, he sold his CD player, which he used to travel to Iraq on March 18, two days before the war began. His dream, he told friends, was to kill at least five American soldiers before dying in battle. Several days after he left, a friend came to tell his family he was dead.

His body was returned to Syria, and hundreds attended his April 3 funeral, his mother said.

"When someone wants to become a martyr, we shouldn't stand in his way," Awatef Hajjo said. "If any of my other six sons wanted to follow the same path, I have no problem with that as long as it is for Palestine, Iraq and our nation."

Palestinian militant groups -- whose presence in Syria irritates American-Syrian relations -- have not said whether they have encouraged Arabs to fight in Iraq.

Syrian officials, wary of U.S. criticism, have not directly answered questions about Arabs crossing the country's border to fight alongside Iraqis. Haitham Kilani, Syria's former ambassador to the United Nations, said Syria shares a long border with Iraq and it was "only natural" for volunteers to cross it.

For the past week, with U.S. pressure mounting, no Syrians or Palestinians living in Syria have been allowed into Iraq. The border has been open only to Iraqis and foreigners with valid Iraqi visas. Still, says Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Bouthayna Shaaban, "we can't watch every meter of the border."

Only areas close to official crossing points along the 310-mile border are fenced. Toward the north, the Tigris River provides a natural barrier. Elsewhere, the terrain is open desert. People cross on foot or on donkeys or in four-wheel-drive vehicles.