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Syrian FM: Damascus Has No Role in  Palestinian Attacks on Israel

Syrian foreign minister, Farouk Al-Shara, denies charges that Damascus harbors terrorists and encourages Palestinian violence against Israel. Mr. Al-Shara's remarks to reporters at the United Nations Friday were meant to contradict reports of Syrian involvement in terrorism by U.S. and Israeli officials.

The Syrian foreign minister categorically denied any Syrian role in the suicide missions against Israel. He said all Palestinian organizations based in Damascus maintain press offices there, nothing more.

"All operations by the Palestinians are engineered, planned and executed inside the occupied territories," he said. "Syria has nothing to do with all these steps."

Mr. Al-Shara is in New York to preside over Security Council deliberations. Syria has the rotating presidency for the month of June.

The question of Syria's connection to terrorists came up at the United Nations after Israel charged Syria during a recent Middle East debate with harboring Palestinian groups responsible for the suicide bombings. The United States has consistently accused Syria of supporting terrorism, saying Damascus provides help for groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Mr. Al-Shara repeated Syria's assertion that it condemns terrorism, and even cooperated with Washington in saving American lives following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

At the same time, the Syrian foreign minister laid all the blame for the continuing Middle East violence on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whom he accused of taking the wrong path to peace. Mr. Al-Shara predicted Mr. Sharon would not succeed by trying to intimidate the Palestinians.

The Syrian foreign minister says he is not optimistic about ending the conflict, despite talk about an international peace conference. Mr. Al-Shara says he doubts very much that Ariel Sharon would agree to ending Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory, which also means dismantling Israeli settlements. And without that, he adds, no solution can last.

The United Nations is involved in the latest multilateral push for a negotiated solution to the Middle East crisis. But the more significant discussions are going on right now in major capitals, including Washington. Diplomats here are waiting for the Bush administration to announce what U.S. officials have referred to as a bold, new initiative.