WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell blamed Hezbollah (search) guerrillas on Tuesday for deliberately igniting a new flare-up with Israel and cautioned Syria (search) against giving any support to the Lebanese militant group.
Powell, at a news conference, said it was unfortunate that Hezbollah again has caused a need for Israel to respond by killing an Israeli soldier.
"The deliberate action that they took, which resulted in the loss of life, once again demonstrates the nature of that organization," Powell said. "We believe that all parties interested in peace should condemn that kind of action by Hezbollah."
Turning to Syria, Powell said it should understand that "any support" for terror groups, whether vocal, permitting transshipment of weapons or permitting its leaders to remain in Damascus (search), destabilizes the Mideast and is not in the interest of peace.
He urged both Israel and Lebanon to monitor their actions carefully.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said Syria was using Hezbollah to wage a deadly guerrilla war against Israel.
"Syria forcefully occupies the country of Lebanon," Engel said in a statement. "Damascus stifles the liberties of the Lebanese people and allows Hezbollah and other terrorist groups to thrive there."
Hezbollah is branded a terror group by the State Department, and Syria is named as a supporter of terror.
Earlier, a senior Syrian diplomat denied that his government permits militant groups to plot attacks on Israel from offices in Damascus.
"Bring us any evidence an operation was planned from Damascus," Imad Moustapha, the acting ambassador to Washington, said at a news conference.
He said various groups had information offices in Damascus that were closed by the government. "We will not allow them to do any planning," Moustapha said at the Middle East Institute, a private research group.
On a new flare-up between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the ambassador said Hezbollah was defending Lebanon against Israeli occupation and had never attacked Israelis in Israel.
He said the Israeli soldier killed Monday was in Lebanon, which remains unsatisfied that Israel's pullback had returned every last inch of territory to Lebanon.
On another front, Moustapha said Syria had not permitted fighters to cross its border to and from Iraq.
For the most part, the ambassador promoted President Bashar al-Assad's "peace initiative," calling for a resumption of negotiations with Israel, and Moustapha urged President Bush to register his support for "momentum" in his State of the Union message.
"We want to regain the Golan Heights through negotiations." he said of the strategic plateau that Syria lost to Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. "We are not going to war."
He said negotiations should resume where they left off when Ehud Barak was Israel's prime minister.
"We have achieved a lot," he said, "We have built a lot on the peace front. Why should we waste more years?"
Moustapha said the two sides had made headway before Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 and then in 2000 when Barak was prime minister .
But he said Barak backed off on the basis of Israeli polls.
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, Mark Regev, said Israel was prepared to hold "good-faith negotiations with no preconditions."
"We think at this stage we don't need words, we need actions," Regev said.
"If the Syrians would end their support for terrorist groups that conduct homicide bombings this would be a very important confidence-building measure," the Israeli official said.