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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 April, 2003, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Arab call for arms ban
Chemical bombs
Chemical as well as nuclear arms will be included in the ban
Arab countries are pushing for a United Nations resolution declaring the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

The move is thought to be aimed at focusing attention on Israel which is accused of having nuclear capability.

It also follows United States allegations that Syria has chemical weapons which prompted fears that it may be next in line for military action.

"The only party in the region with weapons of mass destruction is Israel. If Israel is the only country, then why are the accusations against Syria?" said Syrian envoy Fayssal Mekdad following a meeting of Arab diplomats at the UN on Tuesday.

There have long been calls for the Middle East to be a nuclear-free zone.

Wide-ranging resolution

But the new resolution promoted by the 22-nation Arab Group will also seek to eliminate chemical and biological weapons.

Syria is a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, but not to the international conventions to control chemical or biological weapons. Israel is not a party to any of the treaties.

Any attempt to threaten Syria is unaccepted absolutely
Ambassador Yahya Mahmassani

The US has been blamed of having double standards in trying to crack down on Syria, North Korea and Iran while ignoring Israel which is assumed to have nuclear arms and possibly other weapons of mass destruction.

"These ideas which we shall present to the Council will show that we are sincere in our expressions of rejecting weapons of mass destruction and that the only party that has them is Israel," Mr Mekdad said.

He said Syria would become a party to the biological and chemical weapons conventions "provided that Israel takes them as well".

The Arab League on 24 March had decided to seek a resolution declaring the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, said the body's representative to the UN Ambassador Yahya Mahmassani.

Syrian role

But it was decided that Syria - the only Arab nation on the Security Council - should introduce the resolution on Wednesday.

Ambassador Mahmassani added that Syria was being subjected to "unacceptable threats" from the US based on "unfounded allegations".

Syrian capital, Damascus
Damascus denies having chemical weapons
"The Arab world is already engulfed with anger and frustration and rage over the attack and occupation of Iraq. Any attempt to threaten Syria is unaccepted absolutely," he said.

But on Wednesday, American officials said they believed a senior member of Iraq's intelligence service Farouq Hijazi had flown to Syria the previous day from Tunisia, where he held the post of Iraqi ambassador.

He is believed to have been director of external operations for Iraqi intelligence in the early 1990s, at the time of an alleged Iraqi plot to assassinate President George W Bush's father, when he was himself president, during a visit to Kuwait.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell had tried to calm the charged atmosphere on Tuesday, saying Washington had no plans to go to war with Syria.

Ties between the US and Syria have long been strained by US support for Israel and Syria's backing of the Lebanese group Hezbollah and radical Palestinian groups, which Washington considers terrorist organisations.

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