US votes to sanction Syria for terror ties
* Move supported by huge majority also calls on Damascus to withdraw from Lebanon
* Bill bans export of ‘dual use’ technology and empowers US to freeze Syrian assets
WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives Wednesday voted 398-4 to sanction Syria for its alleged ties to terrorist groups and purported efforts to obtain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The legislation, the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act, also calls on Damascus to end its occupation of Lebanon.
President George W. Bush last week ended two years of opposition to the legislation, and has indicated he will sign it.
The legislation gives the White House a range of options for sanctioning Syria, from restricting US exports and business investment to downgrading Washington’s diplomatic representation and imposing travel restrictions on Syrian diplomats in the United States.
The bill also bans the exportation of “dual-use” technology, and allows the US government to freeze the Syria’s assets in the United States and restrict overflight rights for Syrian aircraft inside US airspace.
“Syria is a government at war with the values of the civilized world and a violent threat to free nations and free men everywhere,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay after the vote.
“We’ll send a clear message to President (Bashar al-) Assad and his fellow travelers along the axis of evil: The United States will not tolerate terrorism, its perpetrators, or its sponsors. And our warnings are not to be ignored,” the Texas Republican said.
Before reaching the president’s desk, the measure must first be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then by the full Senate, which is expected in the coming weeks.
The vote comes as relations between Damascus and Washington have soured in recent months over Syria’s alleged terror ties, weapons programs, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US occupation of Iraq.
The Bush administration long has accused Syria of actively supporting various terrorist networks, including Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and providing safe transit for terrorists currently infiltrating Iraq and targeting US forces there.
Lawmakers said nearly half of the 276 terrorists detained in Iraq since the end of major combat there are from Syria.
One of the bill’s most ardent proponents, Representative Robert Wexler, said after the vote that a strong measure of disapproval against Syria was long overdue from the US legislature.
“Syria is an epicenter of terror that endangers the security of America and Iraq and the stability of the Middle East,” said Wexler, a Democrat from Florida.
“Despite repeated warnings, Syria continues to thumb its nose at America, develop weapons of mass destruction, occupy Lebanon, harbor Palestinian terrorists, and support Hezbollah — an organisation with American and Israeli blood on its hands.”
Those alleged offenses notwithstanding “fewer US sanctions apply to Syria than any other country on the State Department’s terrorist list,” Wexler said, adding that the passage of the legislation would soon change this. —AFP
Shalom ‘very happy’, says sanctions will isolate Damascus
JERUSALEM: Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Thursday he was “very happy” after the US House of Representatives voted to sanction Syria for its alleged ties to terrorist groups and purported efforts to obtain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. “I am very happy that the legislation has been passed for this will lead to the isolation of Syria,” Shalom told public radio. “Syria must understand that it cannot belong to two worlds at the same time — being a country that shelters Palestinian terrorist organisations and Hezbollah while at the same time having international status that allows it to be a member of the UN Security Council,” he said.. Hezbollah is the Lebanese Shiite Muslim group, backed by both Syria and Iran, which has waged a decades-long guerrilla war against Israel from southern Lebanon. “The House of Representatives vote reflects a sea change in the international community and in the United States, which understands that the battle against terrorism must be global and target not just terrorist organisations but also the countries that aid them,” Shalom added. —AFP