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U.S. Warns Israel and Syria Not to Escalate Tensions over Movement of Syria’s Missiles

The United States warned Israel and Syria today against an “escalation of tension” as a result of reports that Syria has increased its surface-to-air missiles along its Lebanese border. (Related story, P.I.)

“The United States opposes any escalation of tension in the region or resort to military force,” State Department deputy spokesman Charles Red-man said. “Such actions will not be in the best interest of Israel, Lebanon, Syria or the United States. We have called upon Israel and Syria to exercise restraint.”

Redman would not confirm the deployment of Syrian missiles. Nor would he say whether the U.S. approves or disapproves of the Israeli intelligence flights over Lebanon.

However, he noted, “we have consistently expressed strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon and at the same time, we have supported efforts to achieve full security for Israel’s northern border.”

Redman said the U.S. wants Beirut to have a strong central government that can “exert its authority throughout Lebanon” and prevent Lebanese territory from being used as a “launching pad” for terrorist activities which he noted it does not now have. Redman said the U.S. has “been actively involved with the parties in the region” to prevent an escalation of tension. He said the U.S. was concerned with preserving the Mideast peace process and maintaining security in the region.

SYRIA’S MOVE AND U.S. VIEWS

Redman would not comment on how Syria’s latest move fit in with indications by the State Department after the recent visit to Damascus by Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, that Syria might be less intransigent toward the peace process.

The State Department said at the time that it hoped Syria would join the peace process, and stressed that the U.S. considers the future of the Golan Heights as an issue for negotiations.

Meanwhile, Redman said it was “unfortunate” that a group of West Bank and Gaza leaders were prevented by Israel from going to Amman to talk to Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat. “It’s clear that West Bankers and Gazans have a unique contribution to the peace process which in the first instance involves their people,” he said.

The Palestinian group had been scheduled to meet with Arafat today to urge him to accept United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Their decision to meet with Arafat came after Murphy met with a group of Palestinians at the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem and urged them to pressure Arafat to accept the UN resolutions.

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