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Change in Iran’s terrorism status draws ire of advocates for Israel

WASHINGTON, May 3 (JTA) — The United States’ decision to soften criticism of Iran by dropping its designation of Tehran as “the most active” state sponsor of terrorism has drawn criticism from many pro-Israel activists who view Iran as the greatest long-term threat to the Jewish state. The move, which came in the annual State Department’s terrorism report, is widely seen as part of the Clinton administration’s continuing effort to improve relations with Iran. It follows last week’s decision by the State Department to lift some sanctions on countries, including Iran, to allow the sale of food and medicine. Iran “continued to be involved in the planning and execution of terrorist acts,” according to the State Department’s annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism, which was released last Friday. “Iran continued to provide support to a variety of terrorist groups, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which oppose the Middle East peace process through violence. Iran supports these groups with varying amounts of training, money, and/or weapons,” the report said. Clinton administration officials said that Iran is not listed as the most active state sponsor of terrorism because it is not the “premier” terrorist state it once was, according to a State Department official. U.S. sources defended the decision, saying it was “more technical than political,” and said the Clinton administration cited the difficulty in “quantifying the level of terrorism.” State sponsors of terrorism are subject to a host of sanctions, including a ban on direct U.S. assistance and controls on exports. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, criticized the administration’s decision. “We have serious reservations about any policy that promotes unilateral acts on behalf of the United States towards Iran that are not reciprocated in kind,” said Kenneth Bricker, AIPAC’s spokesman. Israel also does not agree with the U.S. assessment. Zalman Shoval, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said through a spokesman that “Israel has not detected any change in Iran’s policy regarding the support for terrorism or opposition to the peace process.” “There certainly has been no change in its treatment of Israel,” he said. The report continues to list Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea along with Iran as sponsors of terrorism. The report also found: * Last year’s 273 international terrorist attacks marked the lowest total since 1971, but caused a record 741 deaths and 5,952 injuries; * The Palestinian Authority has acted against several terrorists and has stopped several attacks against Israel. The Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus “pre-empted several attacks over the year, including a planned Hamas double-suicide bombing staged from the Gaza Strip in late September”; * Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process continued campaigns of violence and terrorism, but at “a reduced level as compared with the previous two years.” Hamas alone has launched more than a dozen attacks. * Israel “continued vigorous counterterrorist operations, including numerous arrests and seizures of weapons and explosives; * Syria, which has remained on the list since its inception in the 1980s, has not acted to stop anti-Israel attacks by Hezbollah and Palestinian rejectionist groups in southern Lebanon. Despite Syria’s stated commitment to the peace process, it continues to aid in the resupply of terrorist groups operating in Lebanon, the report said. There is no evidence, however, that Syrian officials have “engaged directly in planning or executing international terrorist attacks since 1986,” the report said; * Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the extremist Jewish group Kach/Kahane Chai, are included once again in the list of terrorist groups.