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Syrian Official Blasts Proposed U.S. Measure

Preliminary U.S. Congressional approval of sanctions against Syria was a "biased and illogical act" that will fuel Israeli extremists, damage U.S.-Syria relations and dim prospects for peace in the Middle East, a Syrian official said Thursday.

Imad Mustapha (search), charge d'affaires at the Syrian Embassy in Washington, spoke to The Associated Press a day after the House International Relations Committee approved the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (search), which would give the president the right to impose a variety of sanctions on Syria.

The bill, which passed by a 33-2 vote, accuses Syria of sponsoring terrorists, seeking weapons of mass destruction and occupying Lebanon with more than 20,000 troops.

"This is a blatant double standard that can rarely be met in international diplomacy," Mustapha said in the telephone interview. "What can we say except expressing astonishment and deep sorrow for such an attitude."

The bill passed the committee three days after Israeli warplanes struck an alleged Palestinian militant training camp outside Damascus. The strike came a day after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 19 people in an Israeli restaurant. President Bush expressed approval of the Israeli retaliation.

Syria denies it supports terrorists, arguing that Palestinians have the right to oppose Israeli occupation of their territories.

Mustapha said the progress of the bill — which he called "just a biased and illogical act" - in Congress will antagonize Arabs further toward the United States because it makes Washington look like "a blind ally to Israel."

"It will damage prospects for peace in the Mideast," said Mustapha. "It will damage U.S. standing in the Middle East."

Mustapha said the passage of the bill "is another green light to Israelis to go further in their policies."

"It gives fuel to radicals and extremists in Israel," he added.

The bill now goes to the full House, where it is expected to pass easily. It is also expected to pass the Senate with a comfortable majority.

Once enacted, the legislation would ban the export of weapons to Syria as well as items that could be used in weapons programs.

It would also give Bush the right to impose two of the following sanctions: a ban on all U.S. exports to Syria except food or medicine; a ban of all U.S. business investment in Syria; a restriction on the movement of Syrian diplomats in the United States; a ban on all Syrian-owned or -controlled aircraft from entering the United States; a reduction of diplomatic contact with Syria; or a freeze of Syrian assets in the United States.

Syria's official media also criticized the United States' action.

Tishrin newspaper said the bill was drawn up by "ultra extremists who are doing their best to make the atmosphere tense between Arabs and the American administration."

Tishrin indicated Syria favors dialogue with Washington.

"It [Syria] is open to objective and constructive dialogue with all countries of the world," the editorial said.

A researcher on strategic affairs in Syria, Haitham al-Kilani, told AP the bill "would not affect Syria because commercial relations between the United States and Syria are very limited."

In Cairo on Thursday, the Arab League (search) criticized the bill, saying it would "increase the tension in the region and make the chances for peace more remote. It also makes more difficult a dialogue between Syria, as a main power broker in the region, and the United States."

League Secretary-General Amr Moussa "is very worried about these baseless accusations against Syria," the league said in a statement.