Published October 05, 2003
UNITED NATIONS – Syria urged the U.N. Security Council (search) to condemn an Israeli airstrike on a purported terrorist camp near Damascus (search) on Sunday, while Israel defended the attack and accused its neighbor of harboring terrorists.
Syria's United Nations ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, said the strike was blatant military aggression, telling an emergency meeting of the 15-member council that "Arabs and many people across the globe feel that Israel is above the law."
A Syrian draft resolution condemning the attack calls for Israel to stop committing acts that could threaten regional security or expose "the already deteriorating situation in the region to dire consequences."
The Israeli raid on what it claimed was an Islamic Jihad (search) training base came in retaliation to a homicide bombing carried out by the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad on Saturday. The bombing, at a restaurant in the Israeli coastal city of Haifa, killed 19 people and the bomber.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, said the attack inside Syria was a defensive response and did not violate international law. He accused Syria of providing "safe harbor, training facilities, funding, logistical support" to terrorist groups.
"Syrian complicity and responsibility for homicide bombings is as blatant as it is repugnant. The membership of this arch sponsor of terrorism on this council is an unbearable contradiction and an embarrassment to the United Nations," Gillerman said.
Gillerman expressed anger about the timing of the meeting -- called at Syria's request -- because it came just before the holiest Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur.
"For Syria to ask a debate in this council is comparable only to the Taliban calling for such a debate after 9-11, it would be laughable if it was not so sad," he said.
The meeting was adjourned after delegates said they needed time to consult with their governments. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who holds the Security Council presidency for October, did not schedule the next meeting on the Syrian draft.
Gillerman said he did not expect the United States to support Syria's resolution. Negroponte did not comment on the possibility.
Negroponte repeated U.S. calls from earlier in the day that both sides keep from heightening tensions in the region, and did not condemn the Israeli attack. He echoed Israel's claim that Syria is harboring terrorists.
"The United States believes that Syria is on the wrong side of the war on terrorism," Negroponte said. "We believe it is in Syria's interest, and in the broader interest of Middle East peace, for Syria to stop harboring and supporting the groups that perpetrate acts such as the one that occurred yesterday."
Other council diplomats condemned both Israel's airstrike in Syria and the bombing in Haifa.
Britain, the leading U.S. ally in the Security Council, was more critical of Israel. Britain's Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said, "Israel's action today is unacceptable and represents an escalation."
"Israel should not allow its justified anger at continuing terrorism to lead to actions that undermine both the peace process and we believe Israel's own interests," he said.
Jones Parry, however, also sounded a sympathetic note for Israel, saying the council must recognize that terrorists are still being allowed to attack it.
Pakistan's Ambassador Munir Akram and Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, U.N. ambassador from France, called Israel's attack a violation of international law.
"We urge the council to speedily adopt the decision to condemn this military aggression and to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic," Akram said.
Many diplomats also called on all sides to return to negotiations led by the so-called Quartet -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- and stick to the U.S-drafted "road map" peace plan.
"We need to break the vicious cycle of violence and counterviolence," said Germany's Ambassador Gunter Pleuger. "There is no alternative to the road map."
Before the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the Israeli airstrike, and a statement from his office said the U.N. chief was concerned that the "escalation of an already tense and difficult situation has the potential to broaden the scope of current conflicts in the Middle East."
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa had called for the Security Council meeting in a complaint to Annan and the president of the Security Council, currently the United States.