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SYRIA - March 28 - Damascus Rejects 'Unfounded' Arms Claims.

The Foreign Ministry rejects as unfounded and irresponsible accusations made by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Damascus have been channelling military equipment to Iraq. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Buthayna Shaaban says: "[Rumsfeld] only brings problems for his country and humanity at large. It is an absolutely unfounded, irresponsible statement, just like his statements that brought his country and the allied countries into a terrible war, unnecessary war on Iraq". (Rumsfeld warned Damascus that the US would "consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the government accountable for such shipments". For months, there have been reports about the trafficking of arms from Syria to Iraq, including anti-aircraft missiles, rockets and Scud missile guidance systems from Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. There were also rumours about Iraq sending its own banned weapons to be hidden in Syria. Observers believe the main Syrian figure behind the arms transfers is Firas Tlass, son of Defence Minister Mustafa Tlass. He has also been involved in regular commercial trade with Iraq. Since a thaw in the ties between the two former foes three years ago, Damascus had been receiving 150,000 barrels of cheap Iraqi oil outside the oil-for-aid programme. The increased road and rail traffic between Syria and Iraq could have provided cover for the smuggling activity. The arms are reported to have been brought into Syria by sea. Analysts have been at a loss to explain why Damascus has led opposition in the Arab World to the US-led war at a time when relations between Damascus and Washington are already strained. Pres. Bashar Al Assad has even said he believes it was a possibility that Syria would be next on Washington's list. In one of his rare interviews with the press, Assad told the Lebanese daily As-Safir on March 27 he had warned leaders at the March 24 Arab League meeting in Cairo that several Arab states could be next, adding: "When I mention a number of Arab states, it is not logical to exclude Syria, which is the closest [to Iraq] and which has always been at the heart of the struggle against the invaders").
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Mar 29, 2003
Words:353
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