Syrian's Al-Sharaa Blames Israel for Escalation in Mideast

Syria blamed Israel for the violence in Lebanon and Palestinian territories Wednesday as it came under intensified U.S. criticism after its ally, Hezbollah, snatched two Israeli soldiers. (Full Story)

Syria maintains close ties to Lebanon's Hezbollah and plays host to the top leadership of the Palestinian militant Hamas group, whose fighters in the Gaza Strip seized an Israeli soldier last month.

Ties to the two groups have put Damascus at the center of blame by Israel and the United States in the crisis over the captured soldiers.

"We condemn in the strongest terms Hezbollah's unprovoked attack on Israel and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers," U.S. National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones said as President Bush flew here for a visit. (Click here for the White House's response)

"We also hold Syria and Iran — which directly support Hezbollah — responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence," Jones said. "Hezbollah's terrorism is not in Lebanon's interest.

There were also signs that Egypt, a top U.S. ally in the region, was growing impatient with Syria in the crisis. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak implicitly accused Damascus of wrecking his attempts to mediate a deal for the release of Cpt. Cpl. Gilad Shalit, snatched by Hamas-linked militants on June 25.

Hamas was subjected to "counter-pressures by other parties, which I don't want to name but which cut the road in front of the Egyptian mediation and led to the failure of the deal after it was about to be concluded," Mubarak told Cairo's Al-Ahram Al-Massai newspaper.

Mubarak spoke by telephone Wedneday with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, as well as Jordan's King Abdullah II over the violence. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit flew to Damascus and met with Assad, the Egyptian news agency said.

Israel has already been waging an offensive in the Gaza Strip to win Shalit's release. Wednesday's capture of the soldiers triggered an Israeli foray into southern Lebanon, with warplanes, tanks and gunboats in action as troops crossed the border to hunt for the captives.

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa denied his country had a role in either the Hamas or Hezbollah abductions.

"It's up to the resistance — both the Lebanese and the Palestinian — to decide what they are doing and why are they fighting," al-Sharaa told reporters in Damascus.

But he put ultimate blame on Israel for the seizures of the soldiers, saying, "For sure, the occupation (of the Palestinian territories) is the cause provoking both Lebanese and Palestinian people, and that's why there is Lebanese and Palestinian resistance."

Al-Sharaa made the comments at a news conference with Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, whose country is also a top backer of Hamas and Hezbollah. Larijani was in Damascus for talks with Assad and al-Sharaa.

"When the Zionist entity attacks and slaughters the Palestinian people ... resistance is necessary," Larijani said.

The head of Israel's northern command, Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, said Israel did not intend "at the moment" to take action against Syria over Hezbollah's capture of the soldiers.

But there were worries in Syria that it could be targeted by Israel. "Everything is possible," said Syrian lawmaker George Jabbour. "Israel could make another mistake now, including an attempt to harass Syria."

Arab countries shared those fears, and the Arab League planned an urgent session on Thursday, a senior league official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

"The whole situation is dangerous," Arab League chief Amr Moussa said in Cairo, saying there were talks about holding an emergency gathering of Arab foreign ministers.

Israeli warplanes buzzed Assad's summer residence in the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia following Shalit's capture — a message that Israel held Syria partly responsible and wanted it to work for his release.

On a visit to Cairo, a top U.S. diplomat accused Syria of interfering to prevent a solution to Shalit's abduction.

"We are dismayed that so far there are some who are intending to interfere, to prevent a solution," David C. Welch, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said.