Syria on latest U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the United States and Syria prepare to work together to monitor Hezbollah terrorist activity in Lebanon, the State Department has once again placed Syria on its list of countries that sponsor international terrorism.

In a new report covering terrorist activities around the world in 1995, the State Department said there is no evidence Syrian officials have been directly involved in planning or executing terrorist attacks since 1986.

However, the report said, "Syria provides safe haven and support for several groups that engage in international terrorism."

While noting that Syria has used its influence to moderate the activities of Hezbollah and Palestinian rejectionist groups, the State Department said Syria had "allowed Iran to resupply Hezbollah via Damascus."

In light of the report, members of Congress and foreign policy analysts criticized the Clinton administration for agreeing to cooperate with Syrian President Hafez Assad on rooting out terrorism at the same time that Damascus "grants basing privileges or refuge to a wide variety of groups engaged in terrorism."

Those groups include Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad.

Daniel Pipes, an outspoken critic of U.S. policy toward Syria, said U.S. cooperation with Syria on terrorism "fits into a larger pattern of inconsistency."

With other countries, the United States imposes economic boycotts; with Syria, he said, "it's a policy of co-option."

Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) agreed there is a dichotomy in U.S. policy toward Syria but expressed hope the report "will encourage the Syrians to do more" to moderate their position and crack down on terrorist activity.

In a speech this week to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) criticized U.S. reluctance to put greater pressure on Syria.

"In light of Syria's support of terrorists and its intransigence in the peace process, sanctions should also be imposed on Syria," Lieberman said.

He added that because there is "reason to believe that Assad manipulated the situation in Lebanon," it may be time to "take a moment to step back and ask ourselves whether Assad should be treated differently."

In a news briefing Tuesday, Undersecretary of State Phillip Wilcox defended the U.S. relationship with Syria.

"Maintaining diplomatic relations and contacts with Syria is not at all inconsistent with the efforts that we have made through sanctions to persuade Syria to desist from its support for these terrorist groups," Wilcox told reporters.

"We expect those who have influence and control over" Hezbollah "to use that influence."

The United States, Wilcox said, has sanctioned Syria by withholding the trade of materials that could be used in any way to support terrorism. In addition, Syria has been denied economic assistance from the United States.

The report, meanwhile, pointed to an overall decline last year in deaths resulting from acts of international terrorism — from 314 in 1994 to 165 in 1995. At the same time, the total number of international terrorist acts rose in 1995 from 322 to 440.

For Israel, the reverse was true; the number of terrorist attacks by Palestinians against Israelis declined by more than half, but those fewer attacks proved deadlier.

In 1995, 33 terrorist incidents resulted in the deaths of 45 Israeli soldiers, civilians and U.S. citizens while wounding another 280 people. During the previous year, 79 incidents claimed 55 lives and wounded 150. An increase in suicide bombings during 1995 accounted for the high number of fatalities, the State Department said.

The report did not include the most recent string of suicide bombings in Israel, which claimed 59 victims.

As expected, the report lists seven countries sponsoring international terrorism — Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. The list remains unchanged from last year.

Iran, the report states, remains the "premier state sponsor of international terrorism and is deeply involved in the planning and execution of terrorist acts both by its own agents and surrogate groups."