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Monday, 1 July, 2002, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Syria stands by Hezbollah
Syrians and Palestinians stage a sit-in protest in Damascus
Syria provides political, not military, aid, Mr Assad says
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has rejected pressure from the US to cut ties with Lebanon's Hezbollah group.


Syria supports the Lebanese national resistance, including Hezbollah

President Bashar al-Assad

US President George W Bush had also called on Syria to expel radical Palestinian groups that Washington regards as "terrorists" when he made his uncompromising Middle East policy speech last week.

But Mr Assad - in his first public comments on Mr Bush's demands - defended Hezbollah, whose 22-year guerrilla war helped to end Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon in May 2000.

He said Hezbollah did not need military aid from Syria but that his country was happy to help in other ways.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
President Assad said the work of Palestinian groups in Syria was legitimate
In an interview published in the Al-Liwaa newspaper, he said: "Syria supports the Lebanese national resistance, including Hezbollah... in resisting Israeli occupation and liberating land, politically and in the media because the brothers in the Lebanese resistance do not need military support from Syria."

In his 24 June speech, Mr Bush told Syria to "choose the right side in the war on terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organisations".

He was referring to radical Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have carried out suicide attacks on Israelis and which have bases in Damascus.

'Despair' of Palestinians

But Mr Assad said: "As for the Palestinian groups... their work is limited to political and media activities, and their offices in Damascus provide political representation to the 400,000 Palestinians living in Syria and who look to attain their rights and return to their land."

He added that Palestinian suicide bombings were the result of "despair" caused by "Israel's barbaric practices against an unarmed people".

President Assad said Syria would respond if Israel acts on its threats to attack Syrian positions in retaliation for Hezbollah operations.

"If the Israeli Government involved itself in waging aggression on Syrian territories, naturally Syria would defend itself," the newspaper quoted Mr Assad as saying.


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27 Jun 02 | Middle East
06 May 02 | Americas
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
01 Apr 02 | Middle East
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
05 Jun 02 | Country profiles
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