UNITED NATIONS – The United States remains opposed to a U.N. resolution condemning Israel for an attack in Syria but a Syrian official said Monday he hoped the United States would not use its veto on the matter.
The resolution is a response to Israel's weekend airstrike against an alleged Islamic Jihad terrorist training camp near Damascus (search). The Israeli strike was intended as retaliation for a homicide bombing that killed 19.
"The United States believes that Syria is on the wrong side of the war on terrorism," U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte (search) said Sunday. "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."
On Monday, a Syrian official told Reuters that the United States should prevent the escalation of tensions in the Middle East.
"We hope that the United States does not use the veto and that it practices its role as a superpower in preventing aggression and escalation," the official said.
The U.N. Security Council (search) is not expected to vote on the matter Monday.
The struggle over whether to press the Security Council to condemn Israel's airstrike underscores the diplomatic quagmire the United States and Syria are in.
Syria wants the Security Council to condemn the strike but the United States won't support any resolution that does not also criticize attacks against Israel. Meanwhile, the United States is urging Israel and Syria "to avoid actions that could lead to an escalation of tension," said Joann Moore, a State Department spokeswoman.
President Bush telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to offer condolences for the Haifa bombing and the two agreed on a need to continue fighting terrorism and "on the need to avoid heightened tension in the region at this time," said Ken Lesius, a White House spokesman.
Russia appeared to give some support to the U.S. position on Monday, saying the proposed U.N. resolution condemning Israel should be reworked.
"We believe it would benefit from a more balanced form," Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "In particular, we think it should include a clause on the need to stop terrorist attacks in the region."
On Monday, China joined countries criticizing the airstrike. Its foreign ministry said "China is shocked at the Israeli military attack on the targets within Syria's territory and strongly condemns it."
The European Union on Monday condemned "a very distressing weekend" of violence in the Middle East and said the Israeli strike was "unacceptable." EU spokeswoman Emma Udwin said the 15-nation bloc called for calm on all sides.
In the meantime, Arab leaders warned that a "circle of violence" could surround the region after Israeli warplanes attacked deep inside Syria for the first time in three decades.
At an emergency meeting called at Syria's request Sunday, most council diplomats spoke out against both the airstrike and the homicide bombing in the Israeli port city of Haifa that killed 19 people and prompted Israel's retaliation.
Adding to the Strain
The comments of Negroponte, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, reflected Washington's ongoing headache when it comes to Syria, which had gone out of its way to look helpful to the United States in the wake of the Iraq war but now appears less compliant.
The State Department declared that Syria "must cease harboring terrorists and make a clean break from those responsible for planning and directing terrorist action from Syrian soil."
The State Department has listed Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism for about 30 years. It says Syria offers sanctuary and political protection to groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- all considered terror organizations by the United States.
Syria says it has shut down the offices of Islamic Jihad and Hamas, two anti-Israel militant groups, but has not expelled its operatives.
In mid-September, John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, told Congress that Syria was allowing pro-Saddam Hussein militants to cross its border into Iraq to kill Americans and was seeking aggressively to acquire and develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
He urged lawmakers to let the effort run its course before passing trade restrictions or exacting other punishment.
In March, as U.S. troops moved toward Baghdad, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained that military gear was being smuggled to Iraqi forces through Syria and threatened to "hold the Syrian government accountable." Syria denied the allegation.
Also, the United States is also probing a Syrian connection in an apparent spy ring at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, the Cuba installation that houses about 660 terror suspects, including some from Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
At least two of the military men being investigated for espionage, among other things, have Syrian ties.
An Arabic translator, Air Force Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi, is accused of trying to pass Guantanamo Bay secrets to Syria and an unidentified enemy. A Muslim chaplain, Army Capt. Yousef Yee, has been arrested but not charged. He studied in Syria.
Operation Iraqi Freedom further strained U.S.-Syrian ties; Syria opposed the war.
Last weekend, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said the United States is "not working as constructively with the Syrians as we need to. ... There is much more that Syria needs to do, and that message is being communicated to them."
The attack on Sunday was the first Israeli strike deep within Syria since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Arab League said the bombing "exposes the deteriorating situation in the region to uncontrollable consequences, which could drag the whole region into violent whirlpool."
Hamas said it fired 16 mortar shells at Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip overnight in retaliation for the Israeli airstrike. The Israeli army said it was checking the claim.
Hamas also said it would also carry out more attacks in Israel. "Any aggression against an Arab or Islamic country is an aggression against the Palestinian people and, God willing, our response to this aggression will be decisive," read a statement on a Hamas Web site.
"We call on our fighters ... to respond quickly, and in the heart of the Zionist entity, to this serious escalation," it said.
It seemed unlikely Syria would retaliate. It has 380,000 active duty soldiers, but Israel holds a technological edge. Israel is more worried about Syria's growing missile program and its ability to launch chemical and poison weapons into Israel's cities.
Leaders of Islamic Jihad and other militant groups are based in Syria, but Jihad on Sunday denied having any training bases there. Syrian villagers near the targeted site in Ein Saheb, 14 miles northwest of Damascus, said the camp had been used by Palestinian gunmen in the 1970s but was later abandoned.
The raid was a dramatic new tactic for Israel in its attempts to stop Palestinian militants. Closures, assassinations and military strikes into Palestinian areas have failed to stop homicide attacks, and Washington strongly opposes expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as Israel has threatened.
In the West Bank, Arafat declared a state of emergency and installed an emergency Cabinet with Ahmed Qureia as prime minister.
At the United Nations, Negroponte did not say whether the United States would exercise its veto power against the proposed resolution criticizing Israel. Another diplomat, said no one had threatened a veto.
Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad of Syria, the council's only Arab member, urged his colleagues to adopt the resolution condemning the "military aggression carried by Israel against the sovereignty and territory" of Syria. The document also demands that Israel stop acts "which might lead to a dangerous deterioration that threatens regional and international peace and security."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.