Damascus: US must pressure Israel

Syria has responded to Colin Powell's visit to the country by urging him to pressure Tel Aviv to return occupied land

    A Syrian government newspaper called Monday on Washington to apply pressure on Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territories, a day after US Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Damascus not to interfere in renewed Middle East peace efforts.

    "To guarantee security, stability and peace, pressure must first be exerted on Israel, which is the root source and cause of all tensions," Tishrin wrote.

    Powell, speaking in interview with US television after wrapping up a tour of Europe and the Middle East, said any failure by Damascus not to pull its weight over the Palestinian-Israeli peace process will result in "consequences."

    "There are consequences lurking in the backgroud,"

    he said on Sunday after visiting Damascus and Beirut.

    The Secretary of State had also demanded Damascus close the offices of Syrian-based Palestinian resistance groups.

    But on Monday, the smaller of Palestine's two main Islamist opposition organisations, Islamic Jihad, said it was business as usual for its Damascus offices.

    "Nothing has changed. The status of our bureaus remains the same," Abu Iman Al-Rifai, the group's representative in Beirut, told AFP.

    Powell had told reporters that Syrian authorities said offices of some Palestinian resistance groups had been closed, without naming them.

    Damascus hosts some Palestinian groups resisting Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But the organisations say their offices perform a purely media function and are not involved in planning anti-occupation attacks within the occupied Palestinian territories.

    Powell said assurances from Syria were not sufficient.

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    "What counts now is performance...we're looking for a new attitude on the part of Syria. We're looking for changed behaviour," he said.

    Powell insisted that he made no promises to Syria during his trip but said that there were advantages for Damascus if the peace process moved forward.

    "There are new options on the table that might benefit them...as we move forward down the roadmap," he said.

    Washington is "looking for a comprehensive settlement of all issues in the region, not just between the Israelis and Palestinians, but ultimately a solution that would include Syrian interests and Lebanese interests," said Powell.

    He also admitted that the issue of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories would be "one of the most difficult issues to resolve, along with the final status of the city and the right of return" for Palestinian refugees.


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