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Palestinian Suicide Bombers 'Justified' Says Syrian President - 2002-12-13


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has defended Palestinian militancy against Israel, and he says an American-led invasion of Iraq would spark more Islamic terrorism. Mr. Assad spoke with the London Times newspaper before his visit to Britain next week.

President Assad told the Times that Palestinian suicide bombers are justified because they are reacting to what he called the "terrorism" of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In the interview, Mr. Assad also criticized President Bush's Middle East peace proposals, calling them "extremely biased in favor of Israel."

And regarding Iraq, Mr. Assad is quoted as saying a U.S.-led war would lead to turmoil throughout the Middle East, and create what he called "fertile soil for terrorism."

Mr. Assad is to discuss Iraq and the Middle East conflict Monday with Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. Several Jewish organizations plan to demonstrate outside the prime minister's office on Downing Street when Mr. Assad meets Mr. Blair for lunch.

Eric Moonman of the Zionist Federation of Britain says Syria has an appalling human rights record that must be denounced, despite Britain's desire to have Syria as an ally in the confrontation with Iraq.

"We understand how difficult the present situation is in the Middle East. Therefore, you may look for friends who you would not normally," Mr. Moonman said. "But be alerted to some of the risks that you take when you are inviting the leader of a regime like Syria, having abused many, many people."

Britain has praised Syria for voting in favor of the U.N. Security Council resolution that has allowed weapons inspections to resume in Iraq.

The British ambassador in Damascus, Henry Hogger, says Syria's support is extremely welcome, especially since it is the only Arab country currently holding a seat on the Security Council.

Besides seeing Mr. Blair, President Assad will have meetings with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, the foreign affairs committee of parliament, and other senior officials.