The official state news agency quoted Lieutenant General Hasan Turkmani on Thursday as urging "fighters to keep working day and night and stay at maximum readiness and be alert to repel any possible aggression of (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon's government."
   
He said Israel, which attacked a target near Damascus earlier this month, was trying to export its domestic crises by harassing Syria.

A senior Israeli security source denied Israel was seeking new hostilities with Syria, with which it is officially at war. 
 
"We do not intend to escalate tensions," the source said. "These statements out of Damascus are clearly for internal consumption."

Turkmani’s comments came a day after the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favour of imposing sanctions on Damascus for its support of Palestinian resistance groups.

But the Syrian chief of staff said the Damascus’ policy will not be affected by possible sanctions.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
accused Sharon of war-mongering

“These pressures have not and will not pay and will not divert Syria away from its policy which is based on principles,” said Turkmani.

Syrian analysts said the sanctions vote would not make Damascus bow to American pressure, but stressed that Syria wanted to find a way to improve relations with Washington. 
  

"There is possibility for dialogue. Syria could use the help of its allies and friends among the Arabs or the European Union in order to continue the dialogue with Washington," said Haitham Kilani, a Syrian researcher on strategic affairs.

Raised tensions

Israel raised tensions in the region when it attacked what it claimed was an Islamic Jihad training base in Syria earlier this month. The resistance group denied it had military camps in Syria.

It was Israel's deepest strike in Syria since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

The attack drew international condemnation and Syria called for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to condemn Israel. The United States criticised Damascus at the 15-member member.

Earlier this week Pentagon adviser Richard Perle said the Israeli strike was long overdue and expected US military action against Damascus.