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Syria says fully backs Hizbollah against Israel

Reuters | July 14, 2006
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syria will support Hizbollah and Lebanon against Israel's attacks on the country, the ruling Baath Party said on Friday, defying the Jewish state and its chief ally Washington.

"The Syrian people are ready to extend full support to the Lebanese people and their heroic resistance to remain steadfast and confront the barbaric Israeli aggression and its crimes," said a communiqu¿ from the party's national command issued after a meeting.

It said Israel and the United States "are trying to wipe out Arab resistance in every land under occupation" and that President Bashar al-Assad was aware of the seriousness of the situation in the region.

The national command is the highest echelon of the Baath Party, which has been in power since 1963. The party considers the issue of Arab rights and regaining land occupied by Israel central to its legitimacy.

Assad, who is shaped by his late father's lifetime of struggle with Israel, was not at the meeting.

He has resisted Israeli and American pressure to abandon support for Hizbollah, whose war of attrition was instrumental in forcing Israel to withdraw from south Lebanon in 2000 after a 22-year occupation.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday Syria must pressure of Hizbollah to release two soldiers it captured on Wednesday.

The cross-border operation sparked reprisals from Israel, including strikes that killed scores of Lebanese civilians.

Israel has kept up attacks on Hizbollah targets and devastated an array of Lebanese civilian installations, despite world criticism of its tactics.

The European Union has expressed concern that the confrontation between Hizbollah and Israel could spread to Syria and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi talked with President Bashar al-Assad over the phone on Friday.

It was the first such high-level contact between the Syrian leader and a Western official since last year's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Harir, which worsened Syria's relations with Europe.

Diplomats in Damascus said Syria was confident it would emerge from the crisis with a stronger position compared with the isolation it has been under since the Lebanese-Saudi billionaire turned politician was killed.

"The situation is dangerous but look at how many people are contacting Syria now," one Western diplomat said. "Damascus is back as a main player."



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