Angered by threats directed at the United States from Palestinian terrorist groups that have offices in Damascus, the Clinton administration has issued a blunt warning to Syria: The continued harboring of terrorists will not be tolerated and Damascus will be held accountable for the threats.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher instructed the U.S. ambassador in Syria, Christopher Ross, to notify the Syrian government “at the highest level possible” that the United States would respond to terrorist attacks “in any way it deems necessary.”
The Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas has issued threats against the United States related to the arrest last month of Musa Abu Marzook, the terrorist organization’s equivalent of a foreign minister, who is being held in New York. He has an Oct. 17 hearing on an extradition request by Israel.
In a clandestine radio broadcast monitored by the BBC, Hamas warned “President Bill Clinton’s administration not to hand over Dr. Abu Marzook to the Zionist enemy authorities,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
Although Syria denies that it endorses terrorism or harbors terrorist organizations, it remains on the State Department’s list of nations engaged in state-sponsored terrorism.
Hamas, Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine all have offices in Damascus.
“We take very seriously any potential threat to American citizens anywhere,” said Nicholas Burns, State Department spokesman. “And we consider it important that any individual or group that may be tempted to take such actions understand fully the consequences of doing so.”
Christopher reportedly instructed Ross on Aug. 11 to tell the Syrians: “It is particularly disturbing that some of the statements threatening the U.S. are being made by groups and individuals based in Syria. There can be no justification for their direct threats to American citizens and to American interests.
“The groups responsible must be in no doubt that the U.S. takes these threats seriously and reserves the right to respond in any way it deems necessary to terrorism against its citizens or interests.”
Burns told reporters that the State Department is “very confident that message has been understood.”