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Syria Helped Supply Hezbollah Just Before Recent Escalation

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Syria was involved in shipping Iranian weapons to the Shi’ite fundamentalist Hezbollah movement just prior to the recent upsurge in attacks on Israeli troops, a California congressman charged this week.

“It’s my understanding that two weeks ago, on July the 15th, Syrian armed guards stood by at Damascus International Airport as an Iran Air 747 unloaded anti-tank rockets and a range of other weapons,” Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) said at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

The weapons, Lantos continued, “were promptly trucked off to Lebanon under military escort for use by Hezbollah to intensify its attacks on the settlements in the north of Israel.”

In response to the attacks from Hezbollah, Israel has mounted a large-scale bombing campaign in southern Lebanon.

The rise in violence caused concern among American officials here and was one reason Secretary of State Warren Christopher cut short a trip to Asia and returned to Washington at the request of President Clinton.

The Clinton administration is currently involved in a delicate balancing act involving Syria, one of the parties engaging in negotiations with Israel in the Middle East peace process.

The administration is trying to keep Syria involved in the peace process.

And at the same time, it would clearly like Syria to do more to contribute to an end to the violence in southern Lebanon.

A DELICATE BALANCING ACT

Clinton, who Tuesday had praised Syria for exercising restraint in the current crisis, said Wednesday that he thought Syria “could do more” to contribute to ending the violence.

The president also said he did not “think anybody thought that Syria was exactly behind Hezbollah.”

That remark came as a surprise to some and stood in contrast to statements made by other administration officials.

On Thursday, State Department spokesman Mike McCurry appeared to take a different line by saying, “We have been aware for a number of years that Iran has supplied Hezbollah through Syria, and we have repeatedly expressed our concern about resupply activities.”

Lantos, for his part, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Thursday that he felt Syria has been “playing a double game.”

Syria, he said, “is perpetrating violence against Israel via proxy, while pretending to be a party to the peace process. This double game cannot continue.”

Lantos, who made his remarks about Syrian support for Hezbollah at a hearing Wednesday of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international security, which he chairs, said Thursday that he was satisfied with the response of CIA Director James Woolsey, the witness at the hearing.

While Woolsey did not say a great deal about the ties between Syria and Hezbollah at the open hearing Wednesday, Lantos said his subcommittee was planning further hearings in executive session with the CIA director.

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