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Report: Mideast Terror Declined, but Syria, Iran Still State Sponsors

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The number of terrorist attacks in 1999 went up in every region of the world — except for the Middle East.

There, the number of attacks decreased from 31 to 25.

The primary locus of terrorism is now in South Asia, particularly in Afghanistan, according to the State Department’s annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism.

Even though terrorism is no longer concentrated in the Middle East and governments in the region are doing more to prevent terrorist attacks, some of Israel’s neighbors continue to be an area of concern.

The report cites Iran and Syria as continuing to support regional terrorist groups that want to destroy the Middle East peace process.

The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security provides training, and financial and political support directly to Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives. These and other terrorist organizations are based in Damascus, and Syria continues to provide a “crucial link” in the terrorist threat from the region, the report charges.

The state sponsors of terrorism listed in this year’s report are Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

The list is unchanged from recent years but it is “not unchangeable,” U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said during Monday’s release of the report.

Governments “know what they need to do” to get off the list, she said.

A Middle East peace agreement could lead to Syria’s removal from the list, the report noted.

In Egypt, for the first time in years, there were no terrorism-related deaths and there were no major international terrorist attacks in Jordan. U.S. Ambassador Michael Sheehan, the coordinator for counterterrorism, said Jordan had a strong commitment to crack down on terrorism.

The report praised the Palestinian Authority’s efforts in counterterrorism, noting that the Palestinians’ security forces pre-empted several terrorist attacks and sought to develop leads about Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad activity.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and government officials have acknowledged the continued improvement in Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation.

While this progress is to be recognized, there are deficits in the Palestinians’ counterterrorism program, mainly the inability to uproot the financing and recruitment infrastructure of Hamas, according to David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank.

Terrorists also routinely escape from Palestinian prisons or elude capture in Palestinian territory, Schenker said.

The report acknowledged that the P.A.’s program “continued to face challenges from the resilient terrorist infrastructure of groups” that oppose peace in the Middle East.

“Important steps have been taken by governments in the Middle East and the Palestinian Authority in counterterrorism activities,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for at the Israeli Embassy.

“Unfortunately, the relative quiet we’ve had over the last year has also been the result of good fortune,” he added, referring to thwarted terrorist attacks in Haifa and Tiberias last September.

Regev says there is much concern about the potential for terrorism as Israel prepares to withdraw from Lebanon in July. External forces could “stir up trouble and attack Israel” following the pullout.

“The terrorism threat has not subsided,” he said.

The report says the Lebanese government does not exercise control over the territories where terrorist groups operate, which leaves Lebanon as a safe haven for Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

The Zionist Organization of America criticized the State Department’s report, saying it makes no direct reference to Syria’s support for Hezbollah, and that it “whitewashes” the P.A.’s policy of “constantly releasing imprisoned terrorists.”

The report does cite Syria’s terrorist ties, but the ZOA says that the lack of direct reference to Hezbollah is an “effort to soften Syria’s image, as a prelude to removing Syria” from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

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