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Friday, 13 December, 2002, 16:42 GMT
Assad warns of Iraq war fallout
Bashar al-Assad and Tony Blair
Assad is paying an unprecedented visit to Britain
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has warned that a US-led war on Iraq would create "fertile soil for terrorism" across the Middle East.

In an interview with the UK's Times newspaper, the Syrian leader said he believed an attack on Iraq was inevitable because America had made up its mind, despite efforts by the United Nations to find a peaceful solution.

The entire region will enter the unknown

Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president
The Syrian leader was speaking ahead of an unprecedented visit to the UK on Monday, when he will hold talks with the country's prime minister, Tony Blair, and meet Queen Elizabeth II.

The United States officially classifies Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism for allowing Islamic militant groups like Hezbollah to operate from its territory.

Mr Assad has also been accused of ruthlessly suppressing dissent in Syria, in spite of promising to open up Syrian society following his father's death in July, 2000.

Repercussions

Mr Assad said the consequences of a war with Iraq would reach far beyond that country.

"The entire region will enter the unknown," he said

Pro-al-Assad demonstration in Syria
Assad said a war on Iraq would have grave consequences

The Syrian leader said countries would be partitioned, there would be floods of refugees and economies would dry up.

He also challenged America's assertion that Iraq was a threat.

"We are a better judge of this because we live in the region.

"I think the bigger problem is that any country should interfere in the internal affairs of another country," he said.

Mr Assad added however that Syria supported America's war on terrorism because it also regarded Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network as an enemy.

Suicide bombers

The Syrian president criticised Britain and America's efforts to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict and pledged his support for militant Palestinian organisations, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Hamas mock suicide bomber
Assad said suicide bombers represented the will of Palestinians

Suicide bombers, he said, were the result of a feeling of helplessness among Palestinians.

Groups who carry out such attacks "express the view of millions of Palestinians inside the occupied territories", said the president.

The Palestinians, in turn, were supported by "300 million Arabs, by over a billion Muslims, and by millions of people all over the world," he added.

Mr Assad said the current violence between Israel and the Palestinians was "a reaction to the terrorism practised by [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon against the civilian Palestinian people".

The 36-year-old leader dismissed Syria's presence on America's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

It was, he said, "a political list. It has nothing to do with terrorism", adding that Syria would be removed from the list as soon as it signed a peace treaty with Israel.

See also:

31 Oct 01 | Middle East
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27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
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