Israel Not Buying U.S. Clearing of Syria, Others in Pan Am Downing

Israel does not buy the Bush administration’s sudden finding absolving Syria, Iran and Palestinian terrorist groups of responsibility for the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988.

The blast killed 270 people.

The absolution of Syria came with the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement Thursday that two Libyans linked to their country’s intelligence service had been indicted by a U.S. grand jury for complicity in the outrage.

According to Ze’ev Schiff, respected military correspondent for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Israeli experts believe a major share of the responsibility lies with Ahmed Jabril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which is sheltered by Syria and financed by Iran.

That belief conforms with the findings of several news investigations. The Israelis believe that Jabril’s outfit, one of the radical groups that defected from the Palestine Liberation Organization, may have acted in concert with both Syria and Iran.

According to Schiff, Israel does not feel the facts made public in recent days by U.S. and British authorities rule out or contradict evidence of involvement by either Jabril or Syria.

Moreover, the Israelis are not entirely convinced of President Bush’s resolve to keep Syria on the list of countries supporting terrorism, despite assurances from the White House.

A report Monday in the Israeli daily Ma’ariv stated that despite official statements to the contrary, Washington is in fact considering removing Syria from the list of countries that support terrorism.

The newspaper based its report on diplomatic traffic from the Israeli Embassy in Washington which suggested that the Bush administration may be using a carrot-and-stick approach to influence Syria’s behavior in the peace process.

ON THE LIST SINCE 1979

According to the report, Syria refuses to attend further bilateral talks with Israel unless the United States stops treating it as a supporter of international terrorism.

Ma’ariv said an administration official trying to “allay Israeli concerns” offered assurances that Syria was not about to be removed from the list “yet.”

But the U.S. official added that in his opinion, Damascus has complied with most of the conditions for removal.

Syria has been on the list of terrorist supporters since it was compiled in 1979. Countries on that list are ineligible for U.S. foreign aid or goods and technology that would improve their military capabilities.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department remains uncertain how the indicted Libyans would be brought to justice.

The two, Abdel Basset Ali-al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, were allegedly linked to the piece of an automatic timer and clothing in the suitcase bomb placed aboard Flight 103 at Frankfurt in December 1988.

The New York-bound jumbo jet blew up shortly after leaving London, killing all 259 people aboard and 11 on the ground.

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