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Sharon threatens to hit Israel's enemies anywhere
( 2003-10-08 09:32) (Agencies)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon threatened Tuesday to hit Israel's enemies anywhere following an air raid deep in Syria, drawing words of support and caution from President Bush.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (R) and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz attend a memorial service for soldiers that died in the Israeli-Egypt war in 1973, at Mount Hertzel in Jerusalem, October 7, 2003.   [Reuters]
"The decisions that he makes to defend her people are valid decisions. We would be doing the same thing," Bush told reporters in Washington when asked about Sharon's remarks.

But the president, who said Monday that Israel should not feel constrained in defending itself, injected a warning note, saying it was "important for the prime minister to avoid escalation."

Speaking at a memorial service marking the anniversary of the 1973 Middle East war, Sharon took a tough line but made no specific threats after Sunday's strike on what Israel said was a training camp for Palestinian militants.

"Israel will not be deterred from defending its citizens and will hit its enemies any place and in any way," Sharon said. "At the same time we will not miss any opening and opportunity to reach an agreement with our neighbors and peace."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, breaking his silence on the attack near Damascus, accused Israel of trying to drag Syria and the rest of the Middle East into a wider conflict. Syria said Israeli warplanes hit a civilian site.

It was Israel's deepest air raid in Syria in three decades and followed a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed 19 people in a restaurant in the Israeli port city of Haifa a day earlier.

Yasser Arafat, facing fresh Israeli threats to "remove" him after the Haifa blast claimed by the Islamic Jihad group, swore in an emergency eight-member cabinet led by Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, who has close ties to the Palestinian president.

Israel says it wants to expel Arafat, but one minister has said killing the Palestinian president was an option.

Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin said Israel would judge the new cabinet by its actions but added: "In all likelihood, if it is established by Arafat it will not fight terror."


Israel says Syria is providing a safe haven for Palestinian militant leaders spearheading a three-year-old uprising for statehood. Syria denies any complicity in Palestinian attacks and rejects Washington's allegations that it sponsors terrorism.

Israel released Tuesday a map pinpointing what it said were homes and offices of Palestinian militant leaders in Damascus, sending them a message they are potential targets.

Political analysts saw the Israeli air raid as a warning shot to Syria, whose military is no match for Israel's, and said it was unlikely to escalate into a full-blown conflict.

But tensions flared on the Lebanese border after the air strike and Israeli military sources said the army had boosted its state of readiness on the frontier.

A military source said "terror groups" in southern Lebanon fired missiles and rockets that landed near an army base and a communal farm in northern Israel Tuesday.

A missile also hit a house in southern Lebanon, killing a boy. Security sources in Beirut said it was probably fired at Israel from inside Lebanon but fell short.

Israel's army said a soldier was shot dead at the border on Monday. Military sources blamed his death on Hizbollah, which denied any involvement.

Commenting on tensions with Syria and the violence on the Lebanon frontier, the Israeli military's chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon, told reporters: "I don't think we are heading toward escalation."

The army declined to comment on an Israel Radio report that an extra artillery battery had moved up to the frontier.

In an interview with the daily al-Hayat, Assad said Syria would not yield to U.S. demands to expel Palestinian organizations on Washington's list of terrorist groups.

"(The raid) is an attempt by the Israeli government to extract itself from its big crisis by trying to terrorize Syria and drag it and the region into other wars," he said.

Syria called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Sunday, but Washington, which has a veto, said it would not support a resolution that condemned the Israeli raid without mentioning the Haifa suicide attack.

The Palestinians are required to rein in militants under a stalled U.S.-backed peace "road map," but Qurie has ruled out a crackdown for fear of starting a civil war.

Under terms of the peace plan, Israel at this stage is supposed to begin easing the hardships of Palestinians and stop building settlements.

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