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Arab World Reacts Angrily to Possible US Sanctions Against Syria - 2003-10-16

Arab reaction to Wednesday's vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to impose sanctions on Syria has been swift and critical. The legislation, which must still be considered by the U.S. Senate, would require President Bush to impose sanctions on Damascus because of its alleged support for terrorists. Many people in the Arab world have rejected the allegation.

Arab countries reacted quickly and angrily to the moves in the U.S. House of Representatives to impose sanctions on Syria. In Lebanon, thousands took to the streets in the Northern town of Halba to denounce the U.S. measure. Some of the demonstrators carried banners defending Syria and condemning the U.S. government.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, speaking on the sidelines of the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Malaysia, described the U.S. bill as "inadmissible and unjustifiable." He told Egypt's official news agency MENA, "international politics should not be conducted in this way."

Arab League Secretary-General, Amr Moussa, said there is nothing Syria should be held accountable for.

The Syria Accountability Act, approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, could lead to a variety of sanctions against Damascus for what the U.S. government says is Syria's support of terrorist groups.

Political analyst Hassan Nafae, head of Cairo University's Political Science Department, says the groups on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations are not considered terrorists to many people in the Arab world.

"For most of the Arab people, Hizbollah is not a terrorist group, Hamas is not a terrorist group, Jihad is not a terrorist group," he said. "Those are political and military structures resisting occupation."

Mr. Nafae says U.S. sanctions against Syria would only confirm what many in the Arab world perceive as America's pro-Israel, anti Arab policy.

The Syrian Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Hassan Turkmani, said his country would not be affected by U.S. sanctions. He was quoted by Syria's official news agency as saying, "these pressures have not and will not divert Syria away from its policy which is based on principles."