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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Israel turns up heat on Syria

Israel has stepped up the war of words on Damascus amid US warnings to Syria over Iraq, as well as Syria's alleged possession of chemical weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon: 'Assad is dangerous'

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the newspaper Yediot Aharonot on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had made an error of judgment by not siding with the US in the Iraqi conflict.

Mr Sharon said he thought Mr Assad was capable of "making the same error" over its balance of forces with Israel.

"Bashar al-Assad is dangerous and his judgement is faulty," Mr Sharon said.

"The Iraqi war is proof that he does not have the ability to draw conclusions from data, which was quite open.

"Anybody with eyes in his head could have known that Iraq would be on the losing side. But Al-Assad assumed that the US was the one that was going to fail."

Israel's 'precise demands'

Mr Sharon listed a number of "precise and specific" demands that he wanted the US to put to Damascus. They include ousting the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Damascus and removing Iranian Revolutionary Guards from the Bekaa Valley.

Israel also wants Syria to halt its co-operation with Iran, remove Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon's border with Israel area and disband Hezbollah missiles deployed along the Israeli border.

Mr Sharon's spokesman, Raanan Gussin, told Israel radio that Syria continued to develop and purchase weapons of mass destruction and possessed missiles "that cover the whole range of the state of Israel".

Syria's "arsenal of chemical weapons", he said, was "large".

Bu Syrian foreign ministry spokeswoman Bouthana Shaaban has insisted "the only country in the region which has chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is Israel".

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said in Ankara that Syria might support an attack against Israel in the future. He urged Damascus to "focus on the changing realities and work for peace".

Damascus media unbowed

Syria's official state media has responded in kind to the increased political pressure on Damascus.

One paper, Tishrin, said it was "very clear that after Iraq, Israel is now playing all its cards to foment tension in the region, by causing insecurity, political tension and resorting to military provocation".

"Israel is not only exploiting the war on Iraq, but is also trying to carry out its plans of aggression against more than just one Arab and Islamic country."

Another paper, Al-Thawrah, said the US accusations against Damascus were a smokescreen to pave the way for a prolonged US presence in Iraq.

"America wants to occupy Iraq without encountering any opposition," it said.

"The unfounded accusations and the provocative threats against Arab countries are in the same vein.

"They are intended to isolate the Iraqi people from other Arab nations so that they are left alone to face the desperate situation which awaits them, thus rendering the occupation of Iraq all the longer."

Meanwhile, Syrian TV gave prominence to President Assad's talks with Sudanese President Umar Hasan Ahmad Al-Bashir and UK Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien.

The president had "stressed Syria's permanent eagerness to see the peace, security and interest of the Iraqi people preserved, together with the unity, safety and historic and civilisation-related identity of Iraq", it said.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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