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Israel Welcomes Pressure on Syria;Campaigns to Stop Russian Missile Deal


Israel says it is waging a diplomatic battle to stop Russian missiles from being sold to Syria. Israel's announcement comes amid growing international pressure on Syria following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The Israeli government has long accused Syria of harboring terrorists and of fomenting attacks against Israel. More recently, Israel strenuously objected to Russian plans to sell upgraded missiles to Syria.

But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told journalists late Tuesday he received a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin that the missile sale will go ahead.

"We are in constant contact with the Russians in order to settle this issue and ensure that these weapons do not reach terror organizations located in Lebanon," he said. "Lebanon is a center of terrorism and regional instability and we have all seen what happened in Lebanon in this regard."

Lebanese opposition leaders blamed Syria for Mr. Hariri's assassination even though Damascus was quick to condemn the killing and deny involvement.

The United States and France have called for an international investigation. Washington stopped short of pointing the finger at Syria, but did recall its ambassador from Damascus and cited the continued presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon as a serious problem.

Syria has deployed troops in Lebanon since 1976 and has kept about 15,000 troops there since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990. Recently, there have been increasing calls from some Lebanese political factions, as well as from the international community, for their withdrawal.

Rafik Hariri was prime minister for much of Lebanon's post-war period and is credited with spearheading the country's reconstruction. He resigned last year amid opposition to a constitutional amendment to allow Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud to extend his term of office.

Arab affairs specialist, Wadi Abu Nasr of Haifa University told Israeli television that Mr. Hariri's assassination will not necessarily result in immediate instability in Lebanon, but he says it has put the limelight and pressure on Syria.

"I believe that Syria now is in a defensive position and Syria will have to take some serious measures on the field to calm down this international and Lebanese tension against it," he said.

Syria has repeatedly called for a resumption of peace talks with Israel and for better relations with the United States. Indications are neither is likely to happen soon, while pressure on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon is likely to increase.
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