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US Officials Deny Giving 'Green Light' to Israel on Syria Attack

The Bush administration Monday affirmed Israel's right to defend itself in the face of terrorist attacks, though U.S. officials denied this meant giving Israel a so-called "green light" for operations like its air strike Sunday deep inside Syria.

The tone was set by President Bush, who pointedly avoided criticizing Israel for the air strike and upheld its right to self-defense.

But at an impromptu news conference with Kenya's President Mwai Kabaki, Mr. Bush said he had told Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a phone call Sunday that Israel should avoid actions that would raise regional tensions even further.

"I made it very clear to the prime minister, like I have consistently done, that Israel's got a right to defend herself; Israel must not feel constrained in terms of defending the homeland," he said. "However, I said it's very important that any action that Israel takes should avoid escalation, and creating higher tensions."

The attack inside Syria, Israel's deepest in 30 years, followed a Palestinian suicide bombing Saturday at a restaurant in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, which killed at least 19 people.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States had no advance notice of the operation and that Israel had neither solicited, nor received a "green light" for the air strike.

Despite denials from Syria, Israel insists the site hit by its planes was a terrorist camp, a contention supported by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who said the facility attacked has "long been used by a variety of Palestinian terrorist groups as a training facility."

In a news briefing, Mr. Boucher said U.S. officials raised the issue of Syrian support for terrorism in diplomatic contacts with the Syrians since Sunday in Washington, Damascus and at the United Nations.

"We've seen Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism for a long time," he said. "We've repeatedly made known our grave concerns about Syrian support for terrorist groups, including Palestinian groups that are engaged in planning and directing terrorist action against Israel from Syrian territory."

Mr. Boucher said the United States was still studying a Syrian draft resolution presented to the U.N. Security Council condemning the Israeli raid.

But he cited remarks by American U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte that a resolution that does not also condemn the terror attack in Haifa would not be appropriate at this time.

Russia, another veto-wielding Security Council member, has made similar remarks. The council met for three hours late Sunday in a session called by Syria, but it adjourned without a vote.