WASHINGTON (Jan. 26)
The Reagan Administration has rejected the charge by Israeli Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin that Syria, not Libya, was behind the terrorist attacks at the Rome and Vienna airports December 27. Rabin made the charge before a visiting United Jewish Appeal group last Thursday night in Jerusalem.
“We have found no evidence of direct Syrian government complicity in the Rome and Vienna attacks,” State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said on Friday. Kalb stressed that “the United States has evidence, that it finds irrefutable, that links Libya to the two airport explosions.”
However, Kalb noted that the Abu Nidal organization, the Palestinian terrorist group responsible for the airport attacks, “continues to maintain offices in Damascus and Syrian-controlled Lebanon and appears to have drawn on these resources in the airport attacks.”
The spokesman stressed that “the Syrian government is already well aware of our concern over its support for terrorism, including the presence in Syria and the Bekaa Valley of Abu Nidal facilities and personnel. And we believe that Syria should rid itself of Abu Nidal.”
However, Kalb added, “at the same time our focus is primarily on Libya because it is the leading supporter of Abu Nidal and supported other recent attacks, including the hijacking of the Egyptian airliner in which Americans were singled out for assassination.”
The State Department has acknowledged for several weeks that the terrorists who attacked the Rome and Vienna airports came from Abu Nidal camps in the Bekaa Valley and travelled through Damascus on their way to Europe. But it has denied any Syrian prior knowledge of the attacks while urging Syria to expel the Abu Nidal organization.
Observers believe this attitude is due in part to U.S. hope that Syria will help obtain the release of American hostages in Lebanon. The Administration also hopes that while there is little chance Syria will join the Mideast peace process, it could be convinced not to try to sabotage it.